U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman recently made a controversial remark, appearing to take sides with Japan on historical issues stemming from its wartime atrocities and misdeeds. It stirred strong anti-American sentiment in Korea, inviting rallies near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. In the atmosphere, South Korea's U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert was attacked by a pro-North Korea activist. In the early morning on Mar. 5, Kim Ki-jong, who has been involved in anti-American and anti-Japanese activities as the leader of a social activist group called “Woori Madang,” or Our Ground, attacked Lippert wielding a 25 cm knife. Lippert had been invited to give a lecture for an event held at the Sejong Cultural Institute in the central area of Seoul.
The incident is an insane crime committed by an anachronistic pro-North Korea activist who has anti-American sentiment. Who is Kim Ki-jong? Given his track record, Kim is an extreme anti-U.S. and Japan activist. Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, he visited North Korea eight times from Nov. 2006 to April 2007, and also set himself on fire in 2007 in front of Cheongwadae, the Korean presidential office. Under the Lee Myung-bak administration, Kim often participated in anti-American demonstrations, including protests against U.S. beef imports in 2008. Moreover, he threw a concrete block at the Japanese envoy to South Korea in July 2010, taking on the title “Dokdo Protector,” and was sentenced to two years in prison with three years of probation.
Even though Kim was such a security risk, he could attend a governmental agency-hosted event unhindered. We wonder how this could be possible. It was a shameful incident that South Korea, which has emerged as a strong economy in the world and has been considered a safe country in terms of public order and security, was host to such a wide open attack with such terror at a basic level.
We cannot but repress our astonishment that the staff of the event organizer admitted the uninvited activist Kim to the event, even though they recognized him. Kim attended the event wearing a name tag that he wrote himself. After the incident, the organizer, the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), gave a nonsensical and lame excuse that Kim was not a member of its organization and was not formally invited to the event.
What kind of an organization is the KCRC? The council was organized to discuss and come up with measures to unify the Korean peninsula by calling on all the domestic social and political groups such as conservative, progressive, and even pro-North Korean organizations to the body as its members, when the former progressive government came into power in 1998. It is no wonder that the organization didn’t give any thought to the possibility of aberrant acts of pro-North Korea forces, given its organizational structure. And for ambassador Lippert, he might accept the offer to deliver a speech without any doubt, since the event was organized by a group associated with the government.
Given the nature of the event organized by the KCRC and the lecture theme of “Peace and Unification of the Korean Peninsula and KOR-US Relations Development Direction,” the security authorities should have had to offer precautionary protections to the American envoy in advance. The police made the clumsy excuse that they didn’t pay much attention to security problems, since the U.S. Embassy didn’t make an official request and a private organization hosted the event. However, it is a serious mistake of the police to neglect him and fail to prevent an act of terrorism in the sense that it is the natural duty of the resident country to protect diplomats.
Further, what is the diplomatic and political position and symbol of the American ambassador to South Korea? The office is the “face” of the U.S., the only ally of South Korea. We made the gash on this face. Lax attitudes and lackadaisical measures of the government’s security authorities make us let out a sigh.
Just after Kim committed the crime, he expressed his opposition to the Key Resolve-Foal Eagle military exercises, an annual series of joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea for defense purposes. He said, “I have committed a terrorist act today.” This is exactly what North Korea is saying. On the same day, North Korea hailed Kim’s attack on the U.S. ambassador to Seoul in a statement, saying “It is a righteous punishment to a warmonger, the U.S. The attack reflects public opinion in South Korea and displays its resistance, condemning the U.S.”
A series of recent affairs at home and abroad might have given the pro-North and anti-U.S. and Japan activist a motive for the attack. The Constitutional Court ruled that the United Progressive Party was unconstitutional, and ordered its dissolution for engaging in pro-North Korea activities. Japanese Prime Minister Abe has continuously made absurd remarks on history between Korea and Japan, and the U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs made biased remarks for Japan.
We have to keep an eye on the paradoxical situation that a person, who enjoys freedom in the free nation of South Korea that has also emerged as a global economic power, praises a dictatorial state and can even commit an act of terrorism echoing the claims of the nation. It is because the terrorist act directly shows that anti-American and anti-establishment activities go to extremes under the guise of plausible justifications in our society, and also that the increasing isolation of pro-North Korean organizations could be combined with a distorted and insular nationalism to lead to terrorism.
Regarding the incident, not only the ruling conservative Saenuri Party, but also the largest opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and even the progressive Justice Party condemned Kim’s attack, drawing a line against pro-North Korea forces.
The attack is sending a warning that the country is not a safe zone from terrorism any more. The Park Geun-hye administration should come up with not only firm measures to punish the forces which harm national security and interests, but also drastic precautions to ensure that similar cases do not recur.
We are relieved to hear that Ambassador Lippert posted on his tweeter account on the same day that he was, “doing well and in great spirits,” and would be back “ASAP” to advance the U.S.-South Korean alliance. He also said, “Let’s go together,” in Korean. Along with Ambassador Lippert, a vast majority of South Korean people, who are threatened by the militarily asymmetric circumstances of North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, values the alliance between Korea and the U.S. In this regard, we hope that officials from the U.S. diplomatic office be more careful in public statements which could cause anti-American sentiment here.
Mark Lippert took office as the ambassador to South Korea in Oct. 2014. Since then, he has made every effort to be closer to South Korea than any other former ambassador. His first son was born in Seoul in January this year and given the Korean middle name of Sejun. Lippert has been walking to work from his residence to the U.S. Embassy, even though the two are not so near, exchanging in warm greetings with the citizens he meets, which shows his liberal-hearted personality. The majority of people in this country are as regretful about the incident as if it had happened to them. We wish him a quick recovery, who has been approaching us with an exceptional friendliness and easy familiarity.