January 24, 2003

South Korean Presidential Hopeful Kwon Gives Talk

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Kwon Young-Ghil, the South Korean presidential candidate of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in last December’s elections, spoke about the political situation in South Korea, the role of the United States in the Korean peninsula and various other topics to a capacity crowd yesterday.

Kwon does not speak English, so a DLP member, Yoon Youngmo served as Kwon’s translator.

“Until last year’s election, all the elections in Korea in the modern day were shaped by what you call regionalism, rather than policy differences,” Kwon said.

Current Situation

“In the recent election, there was no real appeal to regionalism; regionalism did not have much say in the way the election was played out. This election was one election where we were for the first time able to see policy differences become an important factor in deciding the outcome of the election,” he said.

“With the election I think we have seen significant changes, or significant eliminations of some of the key, chronic problems with Korean politics,” he added.

Kwon also discussed what his party, the DLP, stood for.

“The public and nationwide aspiration of the people for a relationship of equality between Korea and the U.S., that energy was generated by the campaign of the DLP, but the votes were taken by the [party that won the elections], the Millennium Democratic Party,” Kwon said.

Kwon put much emphasis on the importance of reducing the size of South Korea’s military to prevent North Korea from becoming more isolated and feeling threatened. He also noted that he was opposed to North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear arms, but that the U.S. was also responsible for breaking with several points on the Geneva Accord, including refusing to end sanctions and threatening North Korea by labeling it part of the “Axis of Evil” and suggesting a policy of preemptive strikes.

“The DLP will continue and step up the campaign to bring about a revision of the status of forces agreement,” Kwon said. “We will continue to pressure the new government of President-Elect Roh Moo-Hyun and also will continue to raise the issue to the U.S. government.”

Kwon also put a large emphasis on labor rights, telling the story of a worker who set himself on fire in 1970 demanding labor reform and a worker who set himself on fire in 2003, protesting the diminishing union influence of privatized industries, including such tactics as corporations freezing unions’ assets and union leaders’ wages.

“Thirty years have passed, there’s been considerable economic development, there’s been considerable democratization, but we still see workers putting themselves on fire,” Kwon said. “This implicates that despite the changes, there have not been changes in the essential structure and shape of society, and there is need for such a change.”

Kwon emphasized the need for universal free education and health care, which he proposed paying for with a “net wealth tax” and a cut in military spending.

The DLP is a progressive alliance of organizations, representing labor, farmers and left-leaning intellectuals. Kwon has been party president since its founding in 2000.

“It is often said of Mr. Kwon that he has big dreams that go beyond the success of his recent election, that call for his party to be represented in the Assembly by 2004 and to be the Assembly’s leading force by 2008,” Prof. John Whitman, director of the East Asian program said.

Kwon also discussed various other topics, including his opposition to globalization, the role of televised debates in the presidential election and his support of women workers.

“I thought he had a very good speech, it was very engaging, I learned a lot and I really appreciate the opportunity to come,” Tracy Hoopingarner, a Full-year Asian Language Concentration (FALCON) student, said.

The program was sponsored by the East Asia Program, the Peace Studies Program, the Department of Government and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Archived article by David Hillis