Through The Static

June 10, 2008

Large Beef Protests in South Korea

Filed under: Activism,Food,Government,Health,Politics,World News — disciplepete @ 5:05 pm

Ok, so apparently this beef protest is pretty serious, serious enough that cabinet members of the government have offered to resign. I’ll let Al fill you in:

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the South Korean capital as objections to a plan to resume imports of US beef continued to escalate.

An estimated 70,000 demonstrators gathered in Seoul on Tuesday evening, despite South Korea’s cabinet offering to take responsibility for the turmoil and resign.

The mass gathering in Seoul was the latest in days of sometimes violent demonstrations demanding that the beef deal be scrapped or renegotiated…

…In April, Lee [South Korea’s President] agreed to lift almost all restrictions on imports of US beef, which had been banned since 2003 after a single case of mad cow disease was detected in the US.

Critics said that the decision to lift the ban was undemocratic and designed purely to clear the way for a free trade deal with the US.

Economic issues in South Korea surely aren’t helping matters, and President Lee Myung-bak has sunk to Bush-esque levels of domestic popularity pretty quickly:

On Tuesday a labour union representing 13,000 lorry drivers and transport workers announced it was calling a strike in protest at soaring oil prices…

…Lee was elected to office last year after campaigning on a pledge to revive South Korea’s economic growth. His victory marked the biggest landslide in South Korean electoral history.

But with protests continuing to grow, barely six months later Lee’s approval rating has plummeted to just 20 per cent.

Adding to the pressure, the embattled president warned on Tuesday that South Korea’s economy was facing serious problems over rising inflation and slowing growth…

…South Korea relies almost wholly on imports of most energy, food and raw materials, making it especially vulnerable to currently skyrocketing global commodity prices.

It’s interesting that the U.S. beef issue has been the spark to mobilize so many people. I just wonder if there have been any similar reactions to U.S. beef imports anywhere else, and if not, why not? Why is this happening in South Korea? Is it really even primarlily about beef among the people there, or is the beef thing just the straw that broke the camel’s back? Or is the beef issue just symbolic for resentment towards U.S. influence on South Korea? These are questions I pose to those in the know.



  1. so friends, not just hundreds of thousands… but ONE MILLION people.

    Al’s nice, but for Korean news, Hankyoreh is better 😉

    The (not so) crazy thing is that the US is JUST started to report on this. And barely. Not surprising since it’s stems around the premise that US beef is just not all that safe-like.

    What I find especially hopeful though is that this whole craziness in Korea started with some high school students who organized their peers because they were like, “oh hellz no. i’m not gonna eat my luncheon bulgogi made with mad cow beef! let’s light some candles and sit in the plaza.” and then they did. and a million people followed.

    What I’m kinda pissed about is where the fuck were these people when Lee Myung Bak and his party won their elections by a landslide?! What, did they JUST find out that free trade, US-cock-sucking neoliberal policies were a bad idea???

    meh. i’m going to take succor in the amazing pictures… one million people.
    and here i thought koreans were only good for golf and winning survivor.

    Comment by porkpie — June 11, 2008 @ 8:51 pm | Reply

  2. A million people, damn. I’m interested to see how it’ll play out. I wish I knew more of the background to this whole story. And btw who are the good Korean golfers? My fav. Korean athlete is Hee Seop Choi, although I don’t know where the hell he is now. But according to my Korean buddy, Choi is the largest Korean ever.

    Comment by disciplepete — June 11, 2008 @ 9:58 pm | Reply

  3. Amazing Korean golfers: Michelle Wie (considered to be the next Tiger Woods of Golf), Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, and like 30 other LPGA players… oh and KJ Choi if you were only considering male athletes 😉

    Comment by porkpie — June 12, 2008 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

  4. Ahh, didn’t know Wie was Korean. Never heard of the others, but then I don’t follow golf.

    Comment by disciplepete — June 12, 2008 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  5. Koreans are concern about the beef import from US. In the recent deal, US could export certain parts of the animal that are banned in the US even for pet food. Would you eat anything that is not even safe for dog? That is what the most Koreans are worried about. Koreans do not hate Americans. They are angry with their President who is responsible for the deal. After all, do we really want export something that we would not feed our dog for human consumption? I do not think so.

    Comment by Lee — June 13, 2008 @ 3:44 am | Reply

  6. Hey Lee,

    I’m SO with ya on this. I’m definitely supportive of Korean people resisting US-ROK trade policies that adversely affect them, as with mad cow beef. I think, though, that such arguments about unsafe beef should be more strongly bolstered with the concern that Lee Myung Bak is flouting the will of the people and even ROK’s own law.

    I mean, many people have quickly argued that US folks eat US beef all the time…. “Would you eat anything that is not even safe for a dog?” Well, as a person living in the US, I actually do eat a lot of what many would consider not safe for a dog–like McDonalds, KFC, and yes, beef. Arf arf (or mung mung?). Wait… Maybe that explains a lot in terms of our craziness! 😀 But the point is, I don’t see these protests as merely about bad meat. This is the sKorean people’s way of really showing their power as a nation against the ROK government’s rush to be the US’ little earnest puppy–which, trust me Lee, I think is a VERY good thing.

    But I think the emphasis that sKoreans don’t hate Americans tends to water down that message though, don’t ya think? Claim y’all’s autonomy, shoot. I hate Americans and I AM American. Fuck. I’M angry with my President, as is most of the US, yet we have not been able to SO swiftly march in such unfathomable numbers.

    What my puzzlement IS though, is how in the world did LMB get elected?! If people really hated his policies (like emphasizing English only schools, the ridiculous canal project, his hate on the brothers and sisters to the north, his shady business dealings)–HOW DID HE WIN IN A LANDSLIDE?! His shit hasn’t changed. It’s still the same model taken from US colonization and neoliberalism. sigh.

    Like I said before, the greatest hope that I have is that folks have continued to demand accountability from LMB and his cronies. I just also hope that there is work on the ground with the masses connecting this meat issue to larger issues of free trade imperialism and how it connects to other shit happening in ROK–like migrant workers, farmers, relations with DPRK, christian megachurches, et cetera, et cetera.

    Comment by porkpie — June 13, 2008 @ 9:39 am | Reply

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