On July 26, two Korean American peace activists – Juyeon Rhee and Hyun Lee – had planned to be part of a peace tour as representatives of the U.S.-based Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea but were denied entry into South Korea by its government.
After being deported back to the US, Rhee and Lee spoke with ZoominKorea about their deportation and their thoughts on the South Korean government’s attempt to isolate the residents of Seongju (where the THAAD missile defense system is to be deployed) from international solidarity. Below is the video of their interview:
(Interview with Korean American peace activists, Juyeon Rhee and Hyun Lee; Video produced and edited by ZoominKorea)
Below is a transcription of the interview:
Q: How did you find out that you would be denied access into South Korea?
Rhee: When we arrived, it seemed like they were already on lookout for us, because when I arrived and was talking to the immigration officer, a supervisor came booth to booth, checking and whispering, “Don’t forget to get the Korean American or American Korean who’s passing by, name,” and then they said my name. So my paper was handed to him, and I had to follow him to the investigation room, and then I saw Hyun followed also. So after the routine questioning, they told us that we were blocked entry into Korea.
Lee: They told us that a central agency had put a block on our entry. And at some point, the immigration officer brought out two pieces of paper. One for each of us to sign and apparently, this was supposed to explain to us why we were being denied. And all it said was that pursuant to articles 11 and 12 of the South Korean Immigration Control Act—and so we asked, we said “This means nothing to us; we cannot sign this piece of paper because it doesn’t explain why we’re being denied entry.” So then, that’s when he went and brought out this very, very thick manual with all of the different immigration articles. And they pointed to article 11, which basically said—one of the clauses said—they have the authority to deny entry to people who are likely to act in a way that is detrimental to the national interest and public safety of South Korea.
Q: How do you think you ended up on this “list”? Do you know who put you on this “list”?
Lee: We do know now whose list this is, because later on, we went to the Korean Airlines ticket counter and said, “You know, they want to put us back on the next flight out to Hawai‘i, but we have two colleagues who are coming to South Korea for a peace tour and we want to see them before we are deported out. So is it possible to extend our stay in the transfer area of the airport so that we can meet with them, and then after that, you can send us out?”
Rhee: We asked actually to change the flight [for a] later one.
Lee: What we were told by the Korean Airlines ticket agent is “There is a block on your entry and an order for deportation from the National Intelligence Service and so because of that there is nothing we can do.” So our speculation for why we were denied entry, I mean, the only thing we can think of, obviously, is because the THAAD deployment issue, the recent decision by the U.S. and South Korean governments to deploy the THAAD missile defense system in Korea, this is a hot-button issue. The South Korean government continuously sends representatives to Seongju to negotiate with the residents; they keep being turned away by the residents. The residents, ninety percent of whom had voted for Park Geun-hye [the South Korean president], and are members of the conservative Saenuri Party. They’re all leaving the party now. Obviously, China and Russia are so upset by this decision and they’ve made it very clear that this is a very provocative act against them. So—and our objective—one of the objectives of our trip was to join with the peace movement in Korea [and] meet up with Veterans for Peace members in Korea to show our solidarity from the United States [and to convey] that we too are opposed to this decision, and I think the government sees this maybe as a threat. …They don’t want to internationalize this struggle about the decision about the THAAD issue. That is the only reason that we can think of for why we were denied entry.
Q: How do you see yourselves moving forward? Do you have any specific plans for building solidarity with the people resisting in South Korea?
Rhee: So I think, you know, we will be continuing and doubling or tripling our efforts to build stronger international solidarity. This shows how powerful international solidarity can be actually to the administration itself—that creating voices, making connections to country to country, and knowing that there is a peace movement in U.S. and in Korea [and] connecting and really build[ing is threatening to the Park Geun-hye government].
Lee: I think it’s important for us to remember that even though the fight against THAAD is happening in South Korea, this is ultimately a U.S. decision. This is part of a U.S. drive to encircle Russia and China with an entire network of missile defense systems. This is part of the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot to Asia” and ultimately, THAAD deployment is in the interests not of the South Korean people, but it’s for U.S. military interests. They’ve already said, even the U.S. Congressional Research Service said [that] THAAD is ineffective in the defense of South Korean people. THAAD is really about U.S. interests in containing China, its military capability. It’s about protecting U.S. bases in Guam and Okinawa against the North Korean missile threat. THAAD is not at all about the defense of South Korea. It’s about U.S. military interests.
So our task then, now that we are back in the U.S., is to make sure that the broader peace movement and the broader public in the United States knows about this decision [and] what is THAAD. Most people don’t even know really what is the purpose of missile defense. I think there needs to be a lot of political education and we are going to really redouble our efforts to build solidarity. Our demand is for the U.S. and South Korean governments to reverse this decision. And you know ultimately, the THAAD system is not in the interests of the U.S. public either. I mean it’s our tax dollars that is going to pay for this very, very expensive, $1.3 billion weapon system that you know ultimately the people of South Korea don’t want and that we could be doing a lot of better things with.
Rhee: As repression against us gets stronger,…we have to think of it as proof that what we are doing is actually making an impact. A lot of people sent us encouragement and we are really grateful for that. You know that you are actually doing something [and] that they are recognizing that we are making an impact and dent in their propaganda. So I hope our case will not discourage anyone who is doing this work and traveling back and forth with U.S. and South Korea and, you know, not to fear but boldly to go only forward.
Juyeon Rhee and Hyun Lee are members of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea.