Week 5 of THAAD Opposition – “Seongju is Korea and Korea is Seongju”
On August 15 in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, 908 people sat in rows of chairs and waited for their heads to be shaved as an act of protest against the U.S.-South Korean decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in their hometown. Even Confucian scholars, who regard all parts of the human body as a gift from one’s parents and their hair as precious as their lives, sat stoically, willing to join the symbolic act against the deployment of the controversial weapons system. As the ceremony began and clumps of hair fell to the ground, onlookers gasped and even dabbed tears from their cheeks.
But the moment of anguish was brief. As soon as the ceremony concluded, everyone quietly tied their headbands behinds their heads and shouted “No THAAD!” as they headed to a demonstration.
Since a U.S. and South Korean joint working group announced the small agricultural town of Seongju as the designated site for THAAD deployment on July 13, the people of Seongju, mostly melon farmers, have become the front line in the fight against missile defense in Korea. And in just a few weeks, they have organized themselves into a force to be reckoned with. [Read more]
Landmark Court Ruling for Agent Orange Victims in Korea
On July 7, former South Korean soldier Oh Dong-ju won a lawsuit in Daejeon District Court in a case against the South Korean Army Chief of Staff, which had denied that the army used Agent Orange in the region where Oh was stationed in 1967. The court ruling sided against the South Korean Army’s claim, which was consistent with the U.S. Military Advisory Group’s Vegetation Control Plan- that Agent Orange was used “only in trial application in U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and ROK Army 21st Infantry Division regions between Oct. 9 and 19, 1967.”
Oh, however, was working in the 3rd Infantry Division region from November to December of 1967 and currently suffers from symptoms related to Agent Orange exposure. The evidence presented by Oh led the court to conclude that South Korean soldiers of other units stationed along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) could indeed be suffering complications from their exposure to Agent Orange, which they appear to have handled to clear vegetation in the area.
Currently, South Korea’s Agent Orange Act allows veterans who served in Vietnam to register themselves as victims of Vietnam-related Agent Orange exposure as soon as they detect symptoms. However, under the same act, those who suffer from symptoms linked to Agent Orange exposure in Korea are unable to register unless they served their duties in the areas officially recognized to have used Agent Orange between the years of 1967 and 1972.
Former soldiers who worked at the DMZ and suffer from complications of Agent Orange exposure like Oh Dong-ju seek to receive proper treatment and support from the government. Immediately following the Dajeon District Court’s ruling last month, the South Korean Army began a process for appealing the court’s decision.
SOUTH KOREA NEWS
Industrial Accidents Cause 2400 Deaths Each Year; KCTU Protests Government Relaxation of Employer Responsibility
On August 16, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) protested proposed amendments to the enforcement regulation of the Occupation Health and Hazard Act. The new enforcement rules are expected to be implemented in January of next year, 2017. KCTU argues the new rules would only help to exonerate businesses that fail to report industrial accidents.
As of now, the law requires businesses to submit an accident report within one month of an industrial accident. If the new rules are implemented, they would be allowed to submit an accident report within 15 days of figuring out the full extent of the accident. This means that if it takes three months to figure out the details of an accident, the business has 15 days from that point on to submit an accident report. Ultimately, business owners and corporations will have less pressure to respond immediately to worksite accidents.
According to KCTU, every year 2,400 workers die from industrial accidents, and over 80% of the cases go unreported. In the case of subcontracted workers, only 8 to 9 percent of all accidents that led to the death of workers in 2014 were covered by industrial accident insurance, and the remaining 90% of cases went unreported. With the proposed amendments to the Occupation Health and Hazard Act, KCTU members foresee an increase of industrial accidents going unreported.
Union members were also critical of the Ministry of Labor for failing to effectively monitor and expose businesses that conceal worksite accidents. According to research done by KCTU, the Ministry of Labor rarely monitors or investigates businesses that intentionally conceal accidents on their work sites unless there is pressure from workers. According to KCTU’s statistics, the Ministry of Labor only investigates 10 cases per year.
KCTU plans to continue their protest in front of the offices of the Ministry of Labor until October when the government’s Cabinet meeting is to take place.
US-NORTH KOREA RELATIONS
U.S. Strategic Bombers in Provocative Show of Force
On August 10, in an unprecedented show of force in the Pacific region, the U.S. military deployed B-2 Spirit stealth bombers to Guam to join B-52 and B-1 bombers for an integrated bomber operation in the Asia Pacific region. The B-1 bombers were deployed just days before on August 6 in order to be stationed in Guam temporarily “to carry out USPACOM’s (U.S. Pacific Command) Continuous Bomber Presence mission.” The B-2 Spirit bombers were reported to have been sent as a part of the “bomber assurance and deterrence deployment” or BAAD.
On August 17, the three bombers were flown over the East Asian region for a joint drill. In a statement released shortly after the joint bomber operation, the U.S. Pacific Command stated, “[T]his was the first time all three bombers flew a formation pass over Andersen Air Force Base [in Guam], dispersed and then simultaneously conducted operations in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia.”
In a statement released through the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s foreign ministry denounced the U.S.’ deployment of the nuclear bombers to Guam- “The introduction of the nuclear strategic bombers to Guam by the U.S…. proves that the U.S. plan for a preemptive nuclear strike at the DPRK has entered a reckless phase of implementation.”
Although the U.S. Pacific Command did not explicitly state that the recent deployments of the so-called “strategic power projection bombers” (capable of carrying nuclear bombs) are aimed at targeting North Korea, both the Continuous Bomber Presence (CBP) mission and the bomber assurance and deterrence deployment (BAAD) have been historically linked to the U.S. military’s plans for targeting North Korea.
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