South Korea Returning to the Politics of National Security, 1989

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South Korea - Returning to the Politics of National Security, 1989

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Returning to the politics of national security, 1989

In his 1989 New Year's address, President Roh promised greater efforts in reaching out to communist bloc countries and in improving relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). He also emphasized continued democratization, coupled with stability. The emphasis on stability was shared by the NDRP, which in its New Year's statement noted the need to correct the unbalanced distribution of wealth and to eliminate conflicts based on regionalism but also rejected "any action to undermine political and social stability." Both the RDP and the PPD viewed 1989 as the year for the final resolution of Fifth Republic issues and called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate impartially criminal charges stemming from the National Assembly investigations.

The president's willingness to move toward tighter social controls was given further impetus by developments in the first few months of the year. In February farmers angry over the government's liberalization of agricultural trade staged largescale , sometimes violent, demonstrations in Seoul. During the same month, the nationwide leftist student organization, the National Association of University Student Councils (Chondaehyop) challenged the government's desire to retain the initiative between the two Koreas by announcing plans to send members to P'yongyang's World Youth and Student Festival scheduled for July. In March a subway workers' strike paralyzed commuter transportation in Seoul for seven days. Nationwide labor unrest continued through April with a violent a strike by Hyundai shipyard workers. Student demonstrators continued to match police tear gas with Molotov cocktails through the early months of the year. In May the nation was shocked when students who had taken police officers hostage in a building at Tongui University in Pusan set a fire that took the lives of seven police officers who had stormed the facility.

These events were accompanied by signs of uneasiness among advisors of President Roh. In March a cabinet minister, known as a spokesman for those in the military seeking a crackdown on labor union and student radicalism, resigned. A week later, at graduation ceremonies of the Korea Military Academy, the academy superintendent twice failed to salute the president and in his speech complained that "people have such confused perceptions about which are hostile and which are friendly countries that they do not know who our enemy is." Pressures on the president to curb what these and other conservatives in the military and the government party believed was a trend toward deterioration increased further in late March, when it became known that two prominent South Korean dissidents had traveled to P'yongyang, where they met with North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and attended a church service. These developments and others, such as the announcement in June that a former opposition legislator had made an unauthorized trip to North Korea in 1988, gave the president the rationale to reverse another trend--the declining involvement of the national security agencies in domestic political life.

During the political openness of 1988, a report of the government's Administration Reform Commission had denigrated the Agency for National Security Planning, on grounds that the agency had in the past "violated human rights on many occasions and interfered in politics, thus incurring the condemnation of the public." As ruling and opposition parties studied ways to limit the agency's role in domestic political surveillance, the ANSP also appeared to take a new approach, announcing that it was scaling back domestic operations, sharing classified documents on external security issues at press conferences, and sending new agency directors to pay respects to the presidents of the opposition parties. By early 1989, political agreement had been reached on a revised ANSP law that would require the agency to observe the right of habeas corpus, remain politically neutral, and end other forms of interference in domestic political life.

The president's response to the growing political crisis of early 1989 was to grant a renewed mandate to the police and security agencies. In view of increasing attacks on police boxes, a long-standing program to provide police with M-16 rifles was stepped up and new rules of engagement issued, permitting police to fire in self-defense on Molotov cocktail-throwing demonstrators. In the aftermath of the Tongui University incident, the National Assembly quickly passed a law providing special penalties for the use of Molotov cocktails. In early April, the president established a Joint Security Investigations Headquarters to coordinate the work of police, intelligence, and national security agencies. This organ, which was in existence from early April through late June 1989, investigated student union groups, dissident organizations, and an antigovernment newspaper, eventually arresting more than 500 persons (including the pair who had traveled to North Korea in March, on suspicion of "aiding an antistate organization," North Korea) under the broad terms of the National Security Act.

The Joint Security Investigations Headquarters was disbanded in June under pressure from the National Assembly. Public prosecutors and the Agency for National Security Planning, however, continued making arrests and pursuing investigations into a variety of political activities on national security grounds. There also was a resumption of the quasi-legal or illegal practices common in national security cases before 1988: breaking into the campaign headquarters of an opposition candidate in a by-election in July; publishing lists of banned "antistate" books even after a civil court ruling that such a ban was illegal; arresting people for reading or possessing books considered to be pro-North Korean; arresting an antigovernment journalist for planning unauthorized coverage of North Korea; and ignoring court orders to allow arrested political detainees to meet with their attorneys. By the end of 1989, all people who had traveled to North Korea without authorization had been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

The role of the ANSP was further strengthened during the rest of the year. As part of a cabinet shuffle in July, Roh appointed a former high-school classmate, with a reputation for a hardline approach as a prosecutor under the Fifth Republic, as head of the ANSP. In the National Assembly, discussion of amendments that would ease sections of the National Security Act and restrict the powers of the ANSP were indefinitely postponed. In September the government introduced an amendment that would enable the ANSP to bypass the constitutional guarantees of access to a lawyer in national security cases. In late 1989, the government claimed that 342 people had been charged under the National Security Act during the year.

You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites: - South Korea - Returning to the Politics of
Politics of South Korea - Political Science - Oxford
Electoral Politics in South Korea - Friedrich Ebert Foundation
South Korea forges ahead with charm offensive to Kim
South Korea's national security adviser in U.S. to meet

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