Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: South Korea

Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: South Korea

Article excerpt

Regular readers of this column will know that I typically focus on spaces that are in the grip of urges to control, possess, administer and exploit. But geopolitical hotspots can embody broader social issues. Women and children often end up bearing the brunt of civil wars and violence. How this violence is justified, legitimised and, indeed, normalised also reflects and manifests underlying power structures and ideologies. So, gender can play a powerful role in geopolitics, whether on the home front, the battlefront or in the diplomatic arena.

So what can we learn from an episode during the first official visit of South Korea's president, Park Geun-Hye, to the USA, when a young Korean-American intern who was assisting the presidential visit accused one of President Park's spokesmen, Yoon Chang Jung, of touching her inappropriately?

Yoon maintains that there was no harassment or sexual assault, blaming 'cultural differences' and a failure to understand American culture'. But a few days after the story broke. President Park fired him and issued a public apology.

However, the apology did little to stem the flood of criticism in South Korea. Critics, including members of the Democratic Party in Seoul, have called for a more thorough investigation, not only of the disgraced spokesman, but also of other government officials who were involved in the incident and its immediate aftermath.

Needless to say. North Korean state media were swift to join in the chorus of condemnation. And within the US Korean community, there has also been anger at alleged attempts by the Korean Cultural Center to downplay the allegations.

President Park took office in February last year. The daughter of Park Chung-Lee, who was president between 1963 and 1979, she's a controversial figure in South Korean politics, and this scandal has provided further ammunition for those who've criticised her judgment when it comes to her senior appointments.

However, the scandal sheds light on a broader issue in South Korean society--as does an earlier incident involving serving and former diplomats in the Korean consulate in Shanghai. In March, the officials were accused of issuing visas without carrying out proper checks and verifications in exchange for sexual favours from Chinese women. Initially, there were concerns about possible Chinese espionage, but the South Korean authorities concluded that the men involved were simply abusing their positions of power. …

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