23 yellow cards from the UN
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
September 17 is the historic day when the Republic of Korea became the 161st member of the United Nations in 1991. It’s been 30 years since the two Koreas joined the UN together. (North Korea was the 160th member.) Thirty years ago, the JoongAng Ilbo published the UN entry as the top story on the front page with the headline, “Laying a Stepping Stone for Reunification.” It will be determined later whether the UN entry really became a stepping stone for reunification or leads to permanent division.
South Korea’s UN entry three decades ago carries great significance. South Korea started to have relations with the UN after the country was approved as the “only legitimate government of the Korean Peninsula” in the UN General Assembly Resolution 195 on December 11, 1948 after its independence from Japanese colonial rule three years earlier. But it took 43 years of ups and downs to become a member of the UN. The Soviet Union’s veto was a critical obstacle during the U.S.-Soviet Cold War era.
The window of opportunity opened in December 1989 when U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the Soviet Union’s General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled the Cold War with the Malta declaration. The diplomatic lineup at the time of entry in 1991 under President Roh Tae-woo included his Senior Foreign Policy and Security Secretary Kim Chong-whi, Foreign Minister Lee Sang-ock, Vice Foreign Minister Yoo Chong-ha, Foreign Ministry’s International Organization Bureau chief Moon Dong-suk, and UN Division head Lee Kyu-hyung.
At the time, Moon Dong-suk, who later served as ambassador to Switzerland, oversaw the entry as the international organization director. He recalled that the biggest contributor in the process of facilitating the entry was President Roh Tae-woo, who pursued northward diplomacy. “At the end of 1990, Roh sent a handwritten message on the first page of a report on our UN participation, urging us to do our best to join the UN. He had a firm conviction. As the leader accurately read the changes of the time, field diplomats could break through obstacles,” said Moon.
Moon recalled that joining the UN was actually the “normalization of abnormalities.” Having attained industrialization and democratization from the devastation of the Korean War, South Korea transitioned from an observer to a full member, he said. Lee Kyu-hyung, then head of the UN Division and former ambassador to China, evaluated that South Korea’s national status and pride were elevated after the abnormal diplomatic environment was normalized. In 2007, Ban Ki-moon became the first Korean to become the secretary general of the United Nations.
However, many people are astonished by the act of lowering Korea’s hard-earned dignity and image at once. It is deplorable that the Moon Jae-in administration and ruling Democratic Party (DP) are criticized at home and abroad for over-legislating evil laws against democracy and human rights.
A case in point is their attempt to pass a draconian revision to the Media Arbitration Act. Seven media organizations, including the Kwanhun Club, demanded the repeal of the “press shackle act,” which tramples on the freedom of press stipulated in Clause 1, Article 21 of our Constitution. Even pro-government civic groups such as the Citizens’ Coalition for Democratic Media issued statements to oppose the revised bill. Moreover, renowned international press organizations, including the World Association of News Publishers and the Seoul Foreign Correspondents Club, expressed their concerns about the retreat of the freedom of the press in Korea.
Eventually, the UN got involved. Irene Khan, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) sent a letter to the Moon administration that the revision could be a serious threat to the freedom of press and urged to modify it to fit the international human rights standards. The country was disgraced by promoting a law oppressing the media as if in a country under dictatorship. The UN has pointed out human rights issues in Korea 23 times. On the 30th anniversary of the UN entry on Sept. 17, I am dumbfounded that South Korea got a series of yellow cards from the UN.
In the book “People Come First” published in July 2012, Moon emphasized that the power must guarantee freedom of press and should not control it. During the 2017 presidential election campaign, he wrote on social media that if the media keeps silent, the people suffer. It is nothing but hypocrisy to advocate the freedom of the press when politically needed and to try to control media once he is in power.
The shameful media arbitration bill should be repealed. I want to remind the sitting powers of a line in the poem that General the Great Eulji Mundeok of Goguryeo (36 BC-668 AD) sent to Sui (581-618) Commander Yu Zhongwen shortly before Yu’s 1 million-strong army suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of Salsu in 612. “I hope you understand it’s enough and stop,” he wrote.