Created: 12/1/1980

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South Korea: Factors for Political Stability^


South Korea: Factors for Political Stabili

KeyKorea is not hadingevolution despite last sp-ring's massive

student antigovernment demonstrations, labor sirifc. and regionallhatilitary intervention.

The leading advocates of radicalChristian churchlabor unions, intellectuals, and oppositionfailed to attract broad support. Even at the height of their demonstrations in May, students were unable to activate public opinion, and much of tbe public remained hostile to their excesses.

The public's deep-rooted fearorth Korean military move against the South strengthens the Army's role in govrrrirrient and actsrakcon any destabilizing activity that mighl be exploited by the North Koreans, Most South Koreans probably regard security against the North and their own economic interests as more important than political liberalization.

Historical and cultural factors haveopulation lhat willelatively high level of governmental repression. The industrialization of South Korea has weakened traditional attitudes and values, but not to the point lhat large numbers of Koreans are prepared totrong, authoritarian government bead on.

Tbc likelihoodevolution appears remote, but the seeds of future confronutions between oppori.Uoii groups and the millury-dominaledremain A

h TmwmmX Bui Not Revolution Western pros reporting over the paslparttcuUriy since President Parks aisaistnatioo listtended to portray South Korea ason tbe brink of revolulioo.iesi of lastet ted tbc image ofa highly unstable governmentestive popula

ige ofa highly

Tbc last years of Park'* role indeed witnessedopular nnhappinessv clement repression anilfailure to bringfaces into the leadership. By9 some oflhii dissatisfaction had erupted into violence. Park's death brought hope lhal things would change, but probably few except ibc most liberals expected mote than modest

Anti-Peik groups, henvever, saw Park's death as the end of aa era and began pressingomplete dismantling of the repressive system (hat flowed from the Yustn constitution. They questioner! the legitimacy of President Choi Kyu Hah's interim government and called for revenge from the Yusin sys

Southactors for Politics] Stabili

Having probed the government's defenses aod found them soft, students,up their demands for liberallTalifla__

[fie government thus gave tbc arjpearance of bd ig pot only untrustworthy but ineffective. The economy wasa deep slump,percent inflalion raieaadnemployed; many eorjtpa nies were tat firaancial trouble, and some were unable to pay back wages. Workers rejected the government's wage guide-

in Aprilhun DodHwan as director oforean Centralfirmed tbe expositions wont fears and gave therna'

the ensuing strikes, sit-ins, and violenceTheiinaied in riots at the Sabuk coal mine ia

-Minor incsdenls were blown out oJ proper lion;speeuf target tosymbol of the Yusin system ', lion was rife, and politicians were given nearly eom-anoiher Park Chung

To mollify its most

i etc freedom lo criircire the govern merit, to make V; demands, and toappeal for pobltc support.-. mosphereorfrce thought and frecspeech encouragedgovernmentcriesoruW criticism of the system, and thus fostered ibe that only wbetted the students' aptsetites-Jmpfeasioo that tbe social fabric of the nation

pus demonstrations

d'ontotbe streets,nraveling and -hat tbe country was movingloward

lions of

its legacy.igooninB middle class bad prospered under Yuiin. and farmers *ere better off lhan ever before. Tbe jilcnt majority of Koreans may harea chance, bul tbey were not willing logo to the barricades for it. Most of them probably would have been willing to jive the interimhance to work out its vague program for political development.esult, ibe massive ttudent demonstral mid-May metool public reception!"

Although the class distinctions have disappeared, the authorityauthoritarian andexistomewhat weakened form. Institutional norms, likewise, are hierarchical and bureaucratic with tower ranking officials deferring to those above and unwilling to contradict or to offer dissenting views. The government, therefore, isin governing by fiat and expects publicThe public, for its part, expects the government to govern humanely and justly J

Tfcc urn

By the lime total martial law was imposed onay, some liens appea red ofssa tUfiction among tbc liberals bul little evidence that South Korea was on Ibe vergea liooal crisis. Farmers were more concerned wiih spring planting than with therevision. Tbe anger of tbe workers was directed at labor union leaders for telling them out to big business. Moderate students felt caught up in the excitement of the mass de monstralioes and the op-ponuniiybe partistorical event, but they were not angry; indeed, the deroonstra lions in Seoul onhrough IS May often were festive. The unrest cer-lainly was not atritical

The Historical and Cultural Tradition

In addition lo tbc reluctance of the beneficiaries ofsystem to participatemix of historical and culrural factors helpsdissidents' failure to enlist wider support-position and iu historical lies wilhtbe developa>entomogeneousthe creationulture bated on Confucianvalues. The system emphasizedtrong family system, subservience toand tolerance for inequality. Throughout tbeof the YiKoreans livedstratified societyonarchy based on theof lovsjiubjecii paying obedience to '.

The Korean peoole have thus been liadilionaDy passive as long as tbe govcrnmcat has not interferedIn their dally lives. Only when governmentexceeded permissible bounds did resth-eness reach Ihe point of localized peasant opriibga.tradition of noopartidpntico in the politicaltill deeply rooted afterears of harsh Japanese colonial rule and anotherears of independent bat '

The government and tbe bureaucracy, however, are often insensitive and prone toexcesses. more concerned wilheir prerogatives and image than in being fair. They tend to meet any opposition un-compromisingly. on tbe basis of mighi-mates-right.

The Inpact of Modernization Korea's modernization drive hasumber of socioeconomic factors thai challenge these Southpolitical traditions. High educatior levels,social and geographic mobility, modem com rnualca lion* and IrartspovtBtioei facililics. and an increasingly urbanized society with its anonymity and social pressures threaten Korean cohesiveoess.the impact of these factors has so far not been severe enough to destroy Korean traditions. Thefor example, though much weakened in urban areas, stilltrong influence; the old hometownhe heart of Ibe extended family and Ihe refuge to which many return in hard times- Hven urban life patternsarge measure of rustic simplicity. There is less of the sense of rootlessness in Korea than in many other rapidly developing societies. Southhas aotignificairtjuveAue delinquency problem; divorce ii still frowned upon; narcotics use amongegligible; and crimefor violentincreasing, are still campara-

Nonetheless, modernization hasreater politicalnotthe growing middle class and has made it simpler for dissident groups to form and to press their demands. Thus, the Psrk yean witnessed tbe devdepenentighly vocal dissident minority demanding an end to Park's authoritarian controlsreater voice in the


governing of ibc coonlry.apidlylUndard of living tended to vitiate the appcab of such liberal dissident groups, but when the nationeriod cf economic do* nium in9 many South Koreans apparently beganuestion It; wisdom of silently accepting the goveromeat'swhen there were fewer material rewards fordoing

IJ.ULiltl Ul

I Ihcy ditj in F

South Korea's ladutlrtalization has. indeed,teady improvement in the standard of living. The division of the material gains of industrialization has been, on Ibe whole, more equitable than in mostnations, but ia recent years Ihe imbalancethe haves and Ibcas been rrowing. The pWential forbes not so much in the ab-soloteeUffeiencesbei-een lhc haves and have-nots bat io ibe espectatioa. of the ha vc-noti lhal they should beill greater share of ihe new affhaewce. The recent economicdding another disncnsioei lo this problem. All bough Ihe unemployment rale is onlyercent, large numbers of unemployed youth and laborers in urban centers near industrialcould cause problems, as they dad In Pusan and Mann during October of last yea

Koreans traditionally have tended to trust their government, to bewith its intricacies and to take for granted that ii will do the right thing. Political apathy is thus the norm, and the public tends to evaluate the government's per forma nee on the basis of its impact on daily life. The peopleertain amount of cJncialbut reseat high-level abuse ofpower.and the amassing of fortunes by bureaucrat^

InhlbirittgChaage and InstabiUly

Three key factors help to mitigate the effects ofchange sod to blunt the activities ofgroups: tbe conservative natureenerally favorable popularof tbe cQvemnvent,eeply rooted fear

nutty duringersonnel1!

The government makes few compulsory demands on the citizenry. The most important ones are military service, reserve training, and the New Coturnumiy Movement. MitiUry conscription and reserve training generally are felt to be Dccessary and equitablyAlthough many farmers resent the huge debts they hare iou. red in complying with (he demands of Ihe New Community Movement, tbe movement has tended to ret jforccd prod uctivc behavior patterns such as frugality, diligence, and respeci for authority. It also has served to nuke the government more responsive to farnsers" demands, thus further en bandog the generruaent's influence in lacInairly stable echelon ofat tbc local level providesf Crisis or of change in higher level i

Tfce Ne- Commaaitr MemaeM. lUliUi'rd ia tbe cart, IfJOt. ia a

rural eVvilopuunt plan discard lo peomoU t

feat of Norlh Korrt. Although much pro-Communist sentiment existed in South Korea during the late years of the Japanese occupation and the period immediately following World War II. the North Korean invasion0 destroyed the idealistic image of Communism among the general populace. Park, En order to stifle criticitin of his regime, repeatedly exploited thepopularstillthatsong had not abandoned hiso take over the Sooth and (hat thenly wailing for Iheritht time to lannch ajew invasion^

Many of the peoplr ifter the Korean war,areoitomic boom of, less concerned wilh the

lllrate agents i

:cSvSKnj |

dangers ofNO'JI Korean invasion. They can be expccied lo rfiV- concessions concerningand lo expedite some form of political coo-tact with North Korea. For the time being, however, ihe older generation will continue to actestforce, and iu perception of the North as anwill buttress Ihe tcgime's political program. Recent North Korean attempts to infiltrate agents into ibe South make the regime's task

Closely linked to this concern about North Korea is Ihe fear of economic chaos, which ibc regime can be expected to manipulate to maintain stability. Many Koreans realize that continued political and social turmoil could leadutoff of vitally needed foreign capital. With tbc Specter of aidesprcad unemployment and labor unresl the alternative, meat members of the middle class may be willing to restrain their desires for political libera)

Tbe Threat From Pcditical Prepare Croups

Political parties and most interest groups in South Korea traditionally have been weak andnder Park Chung Hcc political parties struggled to gain power through cotutltulional means, using the National Assemblyorum. Tbe public, however, frequently belittled theand oppositionselfish and having little cern for the nation or their

r.der any newIve. parties probably

cat system that may ulli.nalely will remain ineffective as innovators In political devd-cpment and at forces for change.^ j

Dissidentlend to be educated, or in soove other waypcoseas neither Ihc powerful organisations nor Ihe media channels to lobby effec-trvcty for change They thus rely on face-to-face excunsnaealton to gain adherents. Under martial law. press controls will prevent the mats media from footnoting "undesirable- change!

il and social Old laborf

Only three major domestic groups have either ihe numbers or Ihc organization to pose any kind of threa to ihe existing political and social cedes: students. Christian groups, and

outhcollege and univcr-

aity student! form tho vanguard of ther;:l

dissident movement, but they cannot force changegovernmentrte-scale off-earnpusTbe it udcnti view thcmselvca at ihed do not hesitate lo levyon the gewcrnmeni Street deatone of the few castkla lhc Modenli have fortheir dcrna ads. which in recent yearsprimarily of caDs for potiiical bbcraltiatko]

Ahbougfa ihe students have asked for the rcsigaatica of national leaders. Ihcy have not demanded that tbe eristing social and economic system beew students arc of course, sympatheticrastic change in tbe social syQ

The student inovernenl is character* red by aa intense actirut leadership butgenerally cautious, moderate following whose lackadaisical study habiu leave time for good-nalured parikipaiion in am (government activities

" Ihey Tiued lo captare popular supportDSIraliooa in May, the students anay be:ow to aiuet ihe governrneni aad the mil nary, panicularly la light of theheavy handed suppression of dissent. Moreorer. tladenU alto have

beemipIVffestri.ijnia'ir-rl'b"hurchgoerserceni of ihe populaiion clairat lo belonghrblianrerwheyconKivjii.ej

The mihtary has tiated that it willIf ihe students refrain from engagingrelated activities. Tbc students arc likelythis offer, and the military will find il difficujiany

uanber of Cbristiaa groepS are active in promoting Labor, human righu, and social justice causes, which In Ibe past have often led Ihem into confrontations with the government. By mosttbe Christian action groups ere not eitremlsi or radical, but they are liberal in the Korean contest. Although Christian activists drawarge pool of

rWsstiatary iuu toM

will not tolerate iu activities in politically sensitive areas. Thisihe bloodshed atmake it difficultndentto persuade iheir flocks to undertake anti-governmerit activities. Conservative clergymen are likely to counsel moderation for the time

orea's bbor force ofount force for change.otential for violence and .evolution.nUrcaii generally are local rathe lhan national, and material rathei than trJcotogical Many workers siitl receive sauUuadard wages in sweatshop* that arc aassmiary and din reroutt. Miay work for companies that operatearrow profit margin thai makes it A'fficwll for them lo grant wage demands. And wiih the exceptionmall number of modern enterprises with forward-looking management, most employers offer little or no job security and few bei

Such conditions provide fertile soil for Christian nctlv-bis or labor organixers. Despite some weU-paMicired

orkers from forming onions. Moreover, many labor leaders still lack credibility among the workers because they often arc corrupt or have been co-opted either by management or by the government. Union leaders also are more conservative and perhaps more realistic lhan tbc membership al large about labor's achievable goats j

ercent of the worknionized, indeed, union activities are restricted by law. Under Park, union leaders adopted aaj gaggfe.h ibe go^rn-sem. wink lobbying caario-sJ, forf the rnembership Many beaeT.ts accruedark's economicesrdoyrncniunities and job mobility lacreas-d. and wages and workingproved. The majority of South Korea's workers, *'J'rfcee.prnbablyprefer lowork through theber than confront Ihe govern* Most suppress their demands for wagehoping economic conditions will Improve neat year'

Early this year, however, tbe labor sncwecnent was more confrontational aad more strident ia its demands for reforms. Wage and coolract daps lea iocreajcal during the first Quarter of thai year, aad unpaid wages were over three limes the figure for last year. During April and early May. many boor groupssil-ins and other 'arms of job actions.

Thousands of unemployed workers in urban centers near industrial compkieaifficult and volatile problem for the government. Maoy jobless youths joined in student demonitinion in Pusan aad Masan last October, wreaking widespread havce ilui led so the imposrton ofbe go-crnincota pfenning public svorks projects lousinesses not to lay off wo. kers bujjo^ shorten theand cut down on overtime^"

/trginausfisai. Dcspiic Ihe homogeneity of the people, strong regional variations existesull ofia hiiioricul development reinforced by linguistic peculiarities. Fictions based on provincial association have existed throughout Korean hisiory and haveignificant role not only in pobtics. but abo ia economic and cultural affairs. Tradiuonal buses have led to severe social chscrstniMlion against Ihe people of Ih* Cfcolb aiea. Other KoreansChoDa Mtives as cunning and unlrustworthy and often are iducUat loero or vied them ai marriage partners for Iheir chUdren^^^

Throughout most of theeriod, native* of Kyongsang Piovince have tended to dominate the political scene, rapecially under Pari, whoyongsang native, la1 presidential elections, which railed Pari against Cbolla politician Kim Dae evident as (Mi voted heavil -Park. Maayievc that Park was mruted by bn re-xt-wi bys and that be deliberately aitempled lo deny to ChoiTa the economy benefits be gave to Kyongsang and ether provinces!

Chun Doo llwm and most of his military allies are from the Kyongsang area and appear determined to domination of South Korean

TbeTisvaagyartltlii ilratestiir.lM Iheenvcejonal dimensions of Cholla regionalism and its potential fm violence, rwaareanoaal factors, however, elevated lie Kwnngjn riots lo Ihe crisb stage, andtilc likelihood that nich regional antipathies atone give rise to widespread revolutionary i


Tbe Crvcial Role of the Military Although Ibe majority ol South Korean* arc KM pre-pared to jo to ihetefho "erah ran't rcpreatireaca can lake Utile cncouragcment from Chan Doc Hwan's rapid ascea-sion io the presidency. For ibe moment, ihcy bare no alternative but lo avoid ccasfrontai-JUc-era-ment thatrepared lo react severelyny direct challenge- Nonetheless, radical clcmcnU such ai Students and Chrbliu aetrvBu are likely lo iry to instiiate confrontations wilh tbc governmentIbeelectable rclasation io the regime's vigilance, ortbe longerclearly has made no movesodicum of political

the coratitvtrMi Uiol interests of many of thee

as Ihe raral popchce. These la tier dements will sap-port Ihc military-dcaraiui ted goveromeet unless il proves eaeessively despotic. Economic concern, more-

Pirn Ctwnkip. Thebaeluic central at isa liraificsnt factor in ili ability to Under the pretest eemorship gvadc-hvety sofTea. to. acaaa-are not permitted to criticize the ceils peaces, evert indirectly. Al though lhc iotelleclual community and atudcaU probably have access to otherwise ana rails bic information, ihey have

are alionvr likely I ando means of distributing iter their views to the 1

| people. Other military measure to control tbc flowinclude stern prohibitions againstNorth Korean radio-broadcasts, tbe forcedtelcvi'ley antennas capable of receiving

mililary has demonstrated thai, unlike Ihe early interim govern racl, at is willing lo resort to force to appress dissent. This fact will deter many dissidents from engaging in confrontational tactics. At the same time, the greater danger of government force inn rates tbe attractiveness of dissentmall number of adicalized students wheat causes thrive on violence aadarboare dcterrrnused to challenge lhc mfliury and Ihe aovnnrvert. pcrtaps by csing Urrorbl lactkt.^^

"Parificaiiom" Mtaisaa. Chun and the military also have benefitederies of "purification"effect, purges aimed al removing people, iastitstions. and ideas that are seen as causingand inefficiency. wraJtcaing traditional values aad ethics, and creating class conflict These moves, plus aof far-reaching educational reforms, base wean Cham tbe support erf Ihe general public and theg admiration of many ieleDectuali Chun's pledge to

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