Spread of Anti-American Sentiment Must Be AddressedEscalating anti-American sentiment in Korean society has reached a level meriting serious concern and government attention.
Anti-American feeling has been aggravated by recent events, such as the allegations of a massacre by soldiers at Nogun-ri during the Korean War, scandal surrounding accusations that the defoliant Agent Orange was used in the demilitarized zone, the escape of the American military suspect in a murder case, the conflict between the Yongsan district office and US military authority regarding the construction of a hotel on the base, and the Maehyang-ri US Air Force bombing accident. Moreover, the revision of SOFA, the most pressing issue requiring resolution between Korea and the United States, has become another irritant. University students registered their protest with attempts to scale the fence of the US embassy, and in another incident a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a US military base. The US Embassy required intense police protection over last weekend, due to the rapidly aggravated anti-American sentiment.
We believe that the pervasive anti-American atmosphere which intensifies whenever concerns surrounding the US military presence are raised, is unhelpful for both Korea and the United States. As testified by the Maehyang-ri incident, the US military in Korea tends to define the anti-American feeling as an overly emotional response. However, the United States must reconsider the background to their relations with Korea. The situation has its origins in the 1960 SOFA agreement. The United States has ignored reasonable repeated requests to reflect political developments in SOFA. If the United States seriously considered requests to revise SOFA with regard to the standards of democracy and human rights - their favorite ideological banners - would public opinion be the same? The only way to halt the recurrence of anti-American sentiment and problems regarding the US military in Korea is with the revision of SOFA as soon as possible. Moreover, the speedy revision of SOFA would benefit the United States. Lee Jung-bin, the minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, stepped out to ease anti-American sentiment, announcing that trade negotiations would soon resume. According to Lee, we must calm our emotional reaction to events, and try to watch the progress of trade negotiations from an objective point of view.
Furthermore, as the South-North summit approaches, it is crucial that we pay attention to the recent turmoil of anti-American sentiment. As the summit nears, a reluctance on our part to recognize the role of the US military in Korea has increased. The importance of the US military cannot be disputed: it prevents North Korea from undertaking provocative actions to initiate another conflict between the South and North, as well as maintaining our relationships with other neighboring countries. It is never acceptable to undervalue the role of the US military in Korea as the 'mediator' in maintaining a secure environment in North East Asia. The summit is only the beginning of the long process to establish reconciliation and a cooperative relationship between South and North Korea.
While the US military must fulfill its role with sincerity, our nation must recognize the reality calmly and without prejudice. This is the only buffer to conflict between Korea and the United States following the increased fervor of anti-American sentiment in Korea.
by Ko Jung-he
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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