Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (centre) inside a bus in Seongju
As expected, the South Korean government has brought out the “violence” narrative. The North Gyeongsang Province police department has created a large-scale task force for the criminal investigation of the Seongju County residents who threw eggs and water bottles at Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who visited Seongju on July 15.
The police agency announced that it would find all of the residents who had participated in the violence and take stern legal action against them through laws such as the Act on Special Cases concerning the Punishment of Specific Violent Crimes. This kind of behavior from the government is no different from a situation in which the wrongdoer is wielding the stick. It’s a transparent maneuver to suppress the opposition of the Seongju residents against the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the area, by ostensibly prioritizing governmental authority and the law.
When considering the government’s unilateral style of governance, the fierce resistance of the Seongju residents was almost a foregone conclusion. In the first place, it was wrong of the government to make the decision to deploy the THAAD system in Seongju without any dialogue with the residents, and then to demand that the residents silently accept this decision. If Prime Minister Hwang’s intent was to participate in a briefing session for the Seongju residents, then he should have expected that level of opposition. He should have been prepared to endure much more than eggs and water bottles.
It’s also questionable whether this act of resistance from the Seongju residents deserves such a large-scale criminal investigation, involving a task force of 25 police officers. The North Gyeongsang Province police department also announced that it would treat the fact that Prime Minister Hwang’s vehicle could not move for just over six hours as unlawful confinement-a move that even some within the police department consider excessive. Did not the head of the South Korean police himself, Commissioner General Kang Sin-myeong of the National Police Agency, say that “the route of the vehicle was obstructed, but this was not an instance of unlawful confinement”?
THAAD deployment is an issue of great magnitude for Seongju residents, a decision that will affect their lives and livelihoods. It’s more than understandable that they are anxious about the dangers of THAAD deployment in their area, and are resistant to the idea. The government insists that the electromagnetic radiation from the THAAD system radar is not harmful outside a radius of 100 meters. But according to the US military manual for radar operations, for radars with a large output of electromagnetic waves, personnel cannot enter the area within a 100-meter radius of the radar at all, and the area between 100 meters and 3.6 kilometers away from the radar is off-limits to unauthorized personnel. If 3.6 kilometers defines the boundaries of the danger zone, then Seongju as well as other major areas fall within the problem area.
Frustrated Seongju residents say this is the end of their melon harvests. Seeing as the government continues to push ahead despite this frustration, it’s no wonder that the residents are resisting.
And although President Park Geun-hye is directly involved in this situation, as the root cause of these events, she merely emphasized “national unity,” as though the matter did not concern her at all. On July 17th she sent over orders from Mongolia, saying, “All efforts should be directed towards national security, with the Prime Minister at the helm.”
It looks like an attempt to suppress resistance to THAAD deployment with the pretext of national security. Even before her departure from South Korea to attend the ASEM summit, President Park had already defined the opposition to THAAD deployment as an “unnecessary controversy.” The President, who says only what she wants to say and covers her ears to the rest, is truly the ringleader of divisiveness within the country.
The government, instead of putting the weight of governmental authority behind suppressing the opposition against THAAD, needs instead to reconsider whether THAAD deployment is truly in the national interest.
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