Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Heading WEST: How the New U.S. Program Isn’t As Welcoming to S. Koreans as it Appears

Incheon Airport, Departures Platform. Photo by wZa.

Incheon Airport, Departures Platform. Photo by wZa.

SEOUL — NEWS OF THE UNITED STATES’ plan to allow 5,000 South Koreans annually to work, study and travel independently in the country on 18-month visas buzzed along local wires shortly after the State Dept. issued a media release Monday. But there has been a notable lack of commentary on the announcement here, even from South Korea’s famously controversy-prone ‘netizens.’ The “Reader Opinion” sections are empty, and Web portal Daum’s WEST forum hasn’t seen activity for 10 days.

By the silence, we can perhaps guess there has been a general nod of approval.

But while the WEST (Work, English study, Travel) program may entice loads of South Koreans who are looking for improved language skills and a leg-up in the corporate world, it doesn’t live up to the rhetoric of facilitating “cultural exchange” — due mainly to one binding guideline:

Participants will devote at least 450 classroom hours to structured English language training and coursework focusing on American business practices and business procedures, U.S. corporate culture, and general office management issues.

While I can only interpret vaguely, what I read is this: no art students, no English lit kids, no history majors et al. The U.S. is interested in bringing young Koreans bent on business, finance and management degrees; the rest are on their own.

The stipulation will hardly whittle the number of applicants, but it will certainly influence the dynamic of any cultural interaction; a good number of the Korean nationals that U.S. students have the opportunity to talk with will all be chasing after the same thing. Of course, skilled Korean artists and academics of other disciplines can still be accepted as exchange students directly by their universities, but won’t have the luxury of time for travel and exploration afforded by the new WEST visa, known as J-1.

It may be a futile effort, but I think local institutions should be lobbying for an amendment to the new agreement that allows for more breadth — or, if not, start pushing now for a wider doorway for American students when Seoul draws up its reciprocal program.

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Looking West: Britain’s Revised Immigration Policy

London in movement by fabbriciuse

London in movement by fabbriciuse

SEOUL — IT’S TOUGH BEING UNWANTED, especially when you’ve fallen out of favor with a major Western power. Britain’s migration advisory committee published a list Tuesday (local time) reducing the number of skilled jobs open to non-EU migrants to 700,000 from 1 million. Effective November, the fields of medicine, secondary education and social work will be closed to those from outside the European bloc, along with 300,000 other jobs. Whether this is a sign of growing economic protectionism or a simple case of discrimination (or both) depends on your perspective. But it seems clear that in an increasingly borderless world, some parties are still trying to hold the line.

They have, of course, left some channels of immigration open — notably to sheep shearers and ballet dancers (Guardian via FP Passport):

It is thought the changes will cut the level of skilled migration to Britain from outside Europe by between 30,000 and 70,000 people a year.

The main list of shortage areas identified by the group of labour market economists is headed by construction managers involved in multimillion-pound projects, civil and chemical engineers, medical consultants, maths and science teachers, and ships officers to staff a newly growing merchant navy.

It also includes unexpected occupations such as skilled ballet dancers and sheep shearers. The experts heard evidence from the Royal Ballet that very few British applicants had the required level of artistic excellence or aesthetics.

The other exception will enable a group of 500 Australian and New Zealand shearers who travel the world working on up to 400 sheep a day to continue to operate in Britain, where they shear 20% of the UK flock.

The MAC acknowledged that one way to address these shortage areas, aside from turning to “low-paid immigrant labour,” is to increase pay rates for those positions. Citing budgetary reasons, they said such a solution is off the table for now. Another answer might be to both raise wages and allow people from outside the EU to compete — leveling the playing field, allowing immigrants to improve their lot and potentially giving the economy a boost. That idea didn’t seem to occur to the committee.

Having just moved to a nation where the word “foreigner” is used in wide brush strokes and where finding work as an outsider in anything besides teaching English is often prohibitively difficult, I can perhaps say based on anecdotal evidence that such closed economic policies are not only the result of buried nativist tendencies (Korea for Koreans, Britain for the Brits) but have the effect of perpetuating such notions. A blunt example is Japan’s refusal to grant suffrage to the over 600,000 ethnic Koreans living in the island nation, many of whom are second or third generation — a policy that pokes at the still-gaping wound of colonial history.

If migrants, expats and other such folk are regulated out of having a full role in their adopted society, they are also shut out in more emotional ways. Tension bubbles, leaving rifts in a culture that could otherwise be rich in mingling hues. It is a backwards step in a globalising world, and one that Britain should consider carefully.

U.S. Pushes Japan to Expand Defense Budget (Hello, Military Industrial Complex?)

THE RECENT PUSH FROM U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer for Japan to “consider the benefits of increasing its own defense spending” should be viewed as highly suspect. His suggestion that the nation — whose military forces were restricted to a self-defense role following WWII — invest in new fighter jets with equipment that is compatible with U.S. weapons systems should draw even more scrutiny.

Schieffer, who was an investment buddy with George W. back in 1989 when they and ‘Rusty’ Rose bought the Texas Rangers Baseball Club (ref. State Dept), at best seems more interested in the U.S. defense department’s bottom line rather than in respecting a 1960 agreement which states that both nations will provide mutual support in the event of attack. At worst, Schieffer seems to be looking out for the interests of U.S. weapons manufacturers.

His supposed reasoning? That the Asian nations surrounding Japan are boosting their defense spending. According to the AP article linked above, Schieffer said that China has increased military expenditures by an average of 14.2 percent annually in the last 10 years, while South Korea’s defense budget has grown 73 percent. And that may well be true, but those numbers are out of context. China itself has grown exponentially over the past decade, and South Korea is taking over military operational control from the U.S. in 2012.

If the U.S. is truly interested in Japan bearing more of a load in its own defense, then it needs to consider scaling back its own military presence in the country — a move which many have been calling for in the wake of a sexual abuse case involving a US Marine, only the latest installment in a string of embarrassments. An even better move would be to advocate that all nations in the region curb military spending, taking a proactive approach to averting future tense situations.

Political Softball in a Hard World

photo by Matthew Bradley

NANCY PELOSI TALKS TALL. When the democrats won control of congress in 2007 she made a lot of noise about how the newly-empowered left would flex its political muscle and get things done. Since then the House has passed some stuff, notably the minimum wage bill — which stalled and sputtered and then passed after major revamping — but mostly it’s been hot air. America cried for change, and Pelosi’s democrats responded with a tepid murmur.

And now she thinks she can make a difference in China?

I rarely digress into political tirades on this blog, but when I read today that the speaker of the House wants President Bush to skip Beijing’s opening ceremonies, I cringed. Here’s someone who has called herself “firm and strong,” but who has repeatedly shot down moves to impeach the president over the Iraq war — someone who has pussyfooted around efforts to withdraw troops, and who has ignored the general sentiment of the American people.

But Pelosi’s apparently beyond all that now. She’s international, man. She’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, pushing for human rights and freedom in Tibet. And as lofty as a cause as that is, coming from her it’s total bullshit.

At her meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Pelosi said: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”

It almost as if she thinks — after we invaded a country on a false premise, refused to hold anyone accountable and then turned a blind eye to illegal torture — we had the “moral authority” to do so in the first place.

The thing is, I’m not sure Pelosi is thinking at all. She’s just playing political softball, trying to make herself look good by taking a “hard line” with Bush, calling for some vaguely symbolic act which she knows he won’t deliver on. She’s wasting our time — and the Dalai Lama’s for that matter.

For all the press flurry that Pelosi’s stance has generated, her words ultimately mean nothing to China (except a nuisance) and nothing for Tibetans. We know this because we’ve heard it all before. All that big talk just trailed off into nothing, and left us with very little we could see.

Korea: Definitions of Terrorism

WHEN A FOREIGN PROFESSOR teaching in Seoul referred to two famous Korean patriots as “terrorists” last month, he sparked an angry outcry from students and a heated discussion on the blogosphere – via Global Voices Online.

The London University professor was teaching a summer session at Korea University, and received a backlash when he referred to Yoon Bong-Gil and Kim Gu (both of whom attempted to assassinate the Emperor of Japan during the Japanese occupation of Korea) as terrorists. They are largely regarded as heroes of the Korean resistance movement, though there is some debate even among Koreans.

Richard over at The Marmot’s Hole has issued a pretty thorough report, translating material from a JoonAng Daily article [Kr].

From GVO’s snapshot of the Korean blogosphere reactions, most resent the comparison between the martyrs of the Korean resistance movement and those who took innocent lives on September 11. Korean bloggers also point out that those who took part in the French Resistance, a violent reaction against Nazi occupation, were never deemed terrorists.

The foreign professor has defended his remarks, saying that there was no other appropriate term for the armed resistance movement [MH].

This seems like a load to me – what the hell do we call the American revolutionaries? Not only that, but the professor should well have considered the current political context before using the word “terrorist.” Surely he cannot have been so foolish as to expect that when employing that heavily-loaded term for the purpose of historical analysis that students would not assume he was making an association between the those who kidnap and kill innocent people and those who have fought against brutal foreign occupiers.

Abe: “approval was regrettable”

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Monday’s passing of the U.S. Congressional resolution calling for Japan to publicly recognize its history of wartime sexual slavery “was regrettable.” (IHT)

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Presidential Office praised the act:

The resolution is expected to offer a chance for the Japanese government to change its attitude toward history, said Presidential Office Spokesman Cheon Ho-seon at a briefing.

“The Japanese government must be well aware that the best way to reach a reconciliation is through an honest review of history. We can be very good neighbors,” Cheon said, adding “we expect a changed attitude on the part of the Japanese government.” (People’s Daily)

It seems terribly ironic that Abe chose to use the word “regrettable” only to further deny Japan’s dark wartime past (a better use for the word might have been “Japan’s wartime history of sexual slavery was regrettable“). Abe should understand that acknowledging historical fact is absolutely essential for the well-being of the international community, for those who have been victimized, and for the education of future generations.

He must also understand that this resolution doesn’t signal a personal attack; no one is asking him to personally own up or accept blame for his nation’s past, but simply to afford people the truth. Indeed, the personal attacks are mainly coming from inside his own country, from the majority of citizens who want him out of office over the recent pension system scandal.

The truly “regrettable” thing here is Abe’s disconnect with reality. The world knows what happened, his own people are tired of him, and it appears it’s time for a change. Get with the times, Abe, or get out of office.

TSA: Keeping Us Safe From Sanity

Via Mike at Vagabondish, a seven year-old Florida boy is on the national “no fly” list, as he is clearly a terrorism risk:

Michael Martin is only 7 years old, a typical youngster who enjoys skateboarding and playing drums. Because he shares a name with a known or suspected terrorist, he has run into roadblocks three times before boarding an airliner, Krista Martin said.

Each time, she was unable to quickly obtain a boarding pass for him online or via an airport kiosk. She had to march to a check-in counter to sort things out, which she said was mostly an inconvenience but also “exasperating.”

Apparently, in a nation that uses predator drones and can digitally spy on its citizens, we are still not quite at that technologically advanced stage where we can discern between a small boy who enjoys drums and a suspected terrorist.

Just for context, a quick YellowPages.com search for “Michael Martin” in New York state brought 157 results. Keep us safe, TSA, keep us safe.


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