[Documents menu] Documents menu

Kim Dae Jung’s Turnabout to Bite Seoulites

By Han Il Su, People’s Korea, 14 January 1998

Breach of promise is taken seriously in this land of strikes, especially among workers. When out-going chief executive Kim Yong Sam broke with his former allies and tried to ram new labor laws through the legislature one year ago—laws that would have made it easier to lay off workers—the country erupted in the worst riots Seoulites ever seen, costing billion of dollars. Poor Kim is reduced to an object of ridicule, waiting to be held responsible for making the nation what it is today: a country under IMF with a whopping $200 billion in debt.

Now president-elect Kim Dae Jung, a longtime friend of unionists and students, got plenty of promises to break.

The first breach of promise came last November when Kim explicitly expressed his intention not to abolish the all-powerful National Security Law (NSL)—the unrivaled anti-democracy law which puts the clock back toward the authoritarianism. The fear of red scare looms large and the citizens will be exposed to the prying eye of intelligence agents, searching for any clues to put enemy-benefiting elements behind iron-bars.

Why not president-elect Kim, in this hard time, use his intelligence agents to shake down corrupt politicians and empty their pocket, instead of spying on innocent citizens?

The ANSP should be directed to ferret out corrupt officials and confiscate their properties. Many government ministers, deputy ministers, department heads and all the way down to lowly custom officials have confessed to taking bribes. Perhaps, some $50-$80 billion may be recovered from these folks, said Korea Web Weekly, a liberal Korea watcher on Jan. 3.

The second came only a month later when he generously accepted stringent terms attached by IMF in exchange for its $57 billion loan. Before being elected president, Kim last November promised workers to force the IMF to renegotiate the most punitive lay-off terms.

Workers need not worry about massive layoffs, I fill fight the IMF control, addressed Kim amid crowded streets filled with cheers.

The IMF virtually took over the south Korean economy, since the parliament passed a tough financial-reform package, including measures to abolish the ceiling on foreign ownership of south Korean stock by April.

Under the IMF, south Korea’s economy will be globalized—but not in the way the country’s gigantic conglomerates or chaebols anticipated. The IMF will shut down most of the nation’s banks to establish banking system in south Korea. Foreigners will have controlling interests in the few remaining south Korean banks, including Bank of Korea, the central bank. As things stands now, a foreigner, if he is bold enough, can buy 26 banks, 27 securities firms, 12 insurance companies and 21 merchant banks for the fire-sale price of about $4 billion.

Swallowing bitter medicine given by the IMF, president-elect Kim broke the third promise, which is likely to be greeted with flying Molotov cocktails and teargas canisters: lay-off.

On Jan. 6, president-elect Kim and outgoing Kim agreed to legalize layoffs in all industrial sectors.

Angrily reacting to the suggested layoffs, workers are threatening to go on indefinite massive strikes, not willing to be singled out as sacrificial lambs in this time of trouble.

The anger among workers is understandable. South Korea has virtually no social security system. If the law is changed and the result is hundreds of thousands of layoffs, as many are predicting, the situation for the unemployed could become desperate, commented CNN on Jan. 8.

After all, the country’s crisis stems directly from the collusive and corrupt ties between politicians, bankers and top businessmen, and the unions are demanding that the bigwigs tighten their belts first.

Pae Suk Bum, acting chairman of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), a well-organized 500,000-strong labor union, demands that the president-elect cut illegal ties between politicians and businessmen and hold high government officials accountable.

We are ready to do our duty and take our share of the suffering. But, unless our conditions are met, we will not hesitate to use every possible means to prevent passage of a law allowing easier layoffs, said Pak, whose KCTU successfully block the unpopular labor laws from passing through the legislature last year. As Pae states, the blame for the country’s $200 billion nightmare directly goes to the government, which forced the obedient banks to keep huge loans rolling into the chaebols in exchange for bribes. After the money in the domestic banks dried up, the chaebols turned to foreigners.

They have borrowed money from just about every major bank of the world: Chase, Bank America, Citicorp, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Harney, some 80 European banks including the Deutsche Bank and Japan’s big ten banks, such as Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi.

The Japanese banks account for a large portion of south Korea’s short-term debt of over $60 billion and the IMF has acted more to save the Japanese banks than to save the Seoul government.

Now the IMF is imposing harsh reforms, and strong Americans are behind the IMF. The IMF administers the bailout program on behalf of the lenders: US-led G7 nations, the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asia Development Bank.

South Korea will have lesser say in its diplomacy and the US vice versa.

The 37,000-stong US troops garrisoned in south Korea will hold sway, and any arms reduction talks including the on-going 4-way talks will be held on a U.S.-DPRK tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte principle. The Seoul government will no longer be able to what Americans dislike bristle at any warming between Washington and Pyongyang, and will end up in what observers here put it: client state of America.

President-elect Kim Dae Jung better retract his pledge to bring Pyongyang to negotiation table, and commit himself to recovering the national bankruptcy.

With would-be prime minister Kim Jong Pil behind—a happy man still believing in the hard-line policy against the north which his American boss no longer wants—there will be no likelihood for inter-Korean warming as the president-elect pictures.