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Yearned for by many, dreaded by some, a free trade accord between the United States and Korea moved one step closer to fruition this week as talks between the two sides kicked off in Washington. Despite positive noises from chief Korean negotiator Kim “40 percent there” Jong-hoon, however, one hurdle remained as insuperable as ever: Kaesong.
Indeed, American rhetoric on the industrial zone seemed to harden this week, with John J. Miller, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice, branding workers in Kaesong “forced labor.”
“You can’t understate the significance of those words,” writes Joshua at “The Korea Liberator” (http://www.korealiberator.org). “U.S. law bars goods made with forced labor from landing in U.S. ports. That, not FTA negotiations, will ultimately be dispositive.”
Though acknowledging that conditions for workers at Kaesong “give new meaning to the term ‘slave labor,’” Cat, a newcomer to the Korea blogosphere and host of “Buhkan Mountain Breakdown” (http://seoullife.net), considers Cambodia and Indonesia, where without sweatshops “many people would face starvation: foraging . . . in garbage dumps to survive, working in even more dangerous local jobs, or . . . selling their children to brothels in the cities.”
“I don’t usually make the free-market argument,” she continues, “but it does make me wonder about whether better working conditions evolve over time as countries industrialize.”
At “The Flying Yangban” (http://gopkorea.blogs.com/flyingyangban), meanwhile, Andy takes aim at prominent U.S. Democrats for making common cause with Korean anti-FTA protesters, who are shown in Yonhap pictures stamping on the U.S. flag. “I am not sure if any of those Congressmen know how their new buddies act in Korea,” he writes, “but this would be a good chance . . . to help them find out.”
But if the host of “Dram Man” (http://dramman.blogspot.com/) is to be believed, the protesters really have nothing to worry about. “What do you think the reaction will be among the jaebols when the U.S. demands more protection from illegal trade subsidies through Korean banks? What do you think the unions will do when they find out? Even better, how do you think KBS will react when they find out U.S. TV shows can be shown by competitors more often? I can hear the KBS news team now swinging into action!”
All of which must be terrible news for President Roh Moo-hyun, a staunch advocate of the FTA. Or so you might think. “The reason why Korea is making a big issue of Kaesong . . . being included into the FTA,” says Dram Man, who works in intellectual property law in Korea, “[is that] they know that this will poison the talks, the U.S. will give up, AND it allows them to take the moral high road out. Korea does not have to change anything, [can] gracefully back out, [can] still be seen as for free trade, and pander to the anti-American part of the electorate to boot. Pretty neat trick!”

Like a rickety old bridge across a deep ravine, blogosphere praise in English for President Roh Moo-hyun is difficult to come across. Yet “Oranckay” (http://oranckay.net/blog/) thinks the president can boast several major achievements. Though many, for example, see President Roh’s tenure as disastrous for the U.S.-Korea alliance, Oranckay says that in the face of opposition from his base, Mr. Roh secured the Pyeongtaek site for the U.S. military’s relocation. “I think that given what he has actually done, Roh will be remembered as a president who ‘did more for the alliance’ than any other.”
Also, President Roh, “has been the first to not let the conglomerates have their way with the country.” And perhaps Oranckay’s most contentious statement: “[Mr. Roh] could have had a summit [with North Korea] by now if he’d wanted one, but has chosen to maintain certain principles and subsequently there hasn’t been one.”

by Niels Footman
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