Slaves of Beijing
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Paralysis can come on suddenly, or it can be cultivated. State affairs are no different. We have seen an extreme case in recent times when Blue House staff did not bother to knock on the door of President Park Geun-hye when the Sewol ferry was sinking. What were they afraid of? They became co-conspirators in the mysterious seven-hour void in command and control that left a tragic stain on Korean history.
Another shameful paralysis is joining that list of ignominities. The disastrous outbreak of the new coronavirus, now called Covid-19, has been the result of the government’s incompetence in managing crisis and quarantine policy. While the government was busy congratulating itself for “an exemplary case” and declaring the disease would soon be contained, South Korea ended up producing the most coronavirus patients after China. Koreans are being turned away or restricted by 37 countries. We have turned from victims to a feared and despised source of the infection. We are reminded of the Sewol ferry victims who died after following orders to stay inside their cabins with lifejackets on.
The only thing the government has stayed faithful to was being respectful to China. The president ordered “excessive” reactions to stop the spread and yet he declined to close the borders to Chinese visitors. Even as the government dilly-dallies on a ban on the entry of Chinese, it considered a lockdown of Daegu and North Gyeongsang, where the infections are most concentrated, and treated the Shincheonji church in the city as a hotbed for the imported disease.
Why the government did not block the Chinese from entering is not clear. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo claimed that Koreans who came from China were a bigger threat than the Chinese. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon also said Chinese people did not pose a danger. Earlier, President Moon said, “Chinese woes are the same as ours.” In an address at Peking University in 2017, Moon disagreed with the argument that China’s ascension could threaten the Korean economy. He went on to say that the two countries shared a destiny that would be mutually beneficial in terms of prosperity in their respective countries. He said that South Korea was “small” but it would contribute to President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream.”
Such empathy towards China is related to anti-American sentiment. This dichotomous approach to history among progressives has been affected by the late scholar Rhee Young-hee. His books praising China’s socialist revolution and criticizing American imperialism were must-reads for student activists in the 1980s. Moon also credited Rhee for establishing his critical view of America.
In his memoir, Moon wrote that Rhee’s writings had been a great awakening to our society’s “misconception that the United States stands for justice and anyone on the opposite side is evil.” After Rhee prophesied the U.S. defeat in the Vietnam War in the book, Moon recalled “the feeling of catalyst” from Rhee’s conviction of the “triumph of truth.”
Later in his life, Rhee admitted to glorifying Chinese revolutionary history because of a lack of materials and made corrections to his writing. But the student activists who became the governing power have not changed their views of China and America. Over-eagerness to please Beijing has caused disgrace to the nation many times. Seoul was forced to reassure Beijing when it deployed a U.S. antimissile system. Korean companies had to suffer a sweeping boycott ordered by Beijing. The president was not even invited to a dinner by his host during a state visit to China. Korean journalists were beaten up by Chinese security.
Even in the face of a danger from the deadly virus, Seoul was more concerned about upsetting Beijing than protecting its own people. The Global Times recently said South Korea was most dangerous and called on Beijing to pay extra heed to preventing infections from Koreans entering China. China is treating Korea as if it were the epicenter of the outbreak.
On issues related to public safety, policy should be based on scientific and practical reasoning. The Moon administration has invited disaster because it approached the crisis with political calculations — it wanted Xi to visit to the country ahead of the April 15 general elections. The ruling power has lost its senses because it is still pro-China and anti-America. With people’s lives at stake, this is no time to be fantasizing about “one community” with China.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 27, Page 28