[LETTERS to the editor]FTA-obsessed, indifferent on securityThousands of South Koreans seemed to be in a war last week against the United States over the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations as more than 28,000 people participated in a demonstration despite heavy rains. From the passion that protesters showed and hugely influential television documentaries, it seems the public is very much interested in whether or not an FTA with the U.S. would benefit us. However, I am curious where such passionate and patriotic Koreans were when the exclusive economic zone negotiations occurred between Korea and Japan, and where they are now when the world is alarmed by North Korea’s missile tests.
Unlike the FTA, the EEZ negotiations have largely failed to gain public attention; the public also seemed to be ignorant of its importance. The EEZ is not only crucial due to fisheries, tourism value and resources under the sea but also for environmental reasons and security. The EEZ is part of a nation-state’s jurisdiction that has to be protected by all means. Unfortunately, the match between Togo and South Korea caused the public to be less interested in the Korea-Japan EEZ negotiations. In comparison with the reaction to the FTA, the EEZ negotiation seemed as if abandoned; On June 6, for example, on the Web site of KBS News, the debate topic was, “Where [what cheering rally] are you going to support the Korean soccer team?”
Then North Korea shot a Taepodong-2 and five other missiles. Japan and the United States immediately reacted. Japan has proposed to the United Nations Security Council to take strong action against North Korea by invoking Chapter 7, Article 41 of the UN Charter. Japan’s leaders spoke of pre-emptive action as if they feel that their national security is threatened by North Korea. If Japan takes pre-emptive action, it is most likely that tensions between China and Japan would increase and lead to an arms race in the region. However, unlike with the FTA, South Koreans do not seem to feel the gravity of what is going on. In a survey conducted by Hangil Research, over 80% of respondents said they are worried about the impact of an FTA and Korea should be careful about having an FTA with the U.S. Only 39.3% felt threatened by North Korea’s missile tests even though those missiles directly threaten national security.
In realist perspective, issues are hierarchical; realists classify issues that are closely related to national security as high politics and other issues as low politics. In this view, the FTA is low politics, yet the public seems highly obsessed with it, because of its side-effects that would affect people’s lives. Still, it confuses me that people are more interested in low politics, neglecting national security.
by Kim Min-sik