By J. Sul
JeJu island which is known to be the most beautiful island in South Korea has become one of the most controversial geopolitical locations in the nation. This is mainly due to the imperialistic policy of the US and the militaristic affiliation it has made with the South Korean government: the installation of another US navy base in neo-colonial state, that is South Korea, fomented the controversy.
The state where its liberation was not achieved by the power of the people but by the imperialist state is condemned to subjugate to its “liberator” due to both political and economic reason. Accordingly, imperialist “liberator” states do their best to keep ordain of the political affiliation they established to distribute and re-distribute the world among themselves according to their national interest.
The phenomena of JeJu Island being a controversial geopolitical location implies two very distinctive but closely related issues: coalescence of internal contradictions residing in the capitalist system of South Korea and the external contradiction between imperialist states and the neo-colonial state.
This article will delineate not only the imperialistic measures of the US but also the contradiction that arises from the national capitalist system of South Korea and how these two converge on each other.
The idea of establishing a naval base on JeJu island was first raised in 1993 considering 99.8% of trade goods passes through the southern seas of the island (1). The former right wing president of South Korea, Myung Bak Lee, who asserted the needs of the Free Trade Agreement between South Korea and the US throughout his regime, stated that the establishment of the naval base would bring stability and peace among North East Asian nations and the US, and also the national economic development (2).
“Peace”, “stability”, and “economic development” were the main catch-phrases of the ruling class in South Korea, arguing that once we establish a secure position in trade with the US there shall be no militaristic aggression between the nations of Northeast Asia and the US.
Interestingly, the rationale of the ruling class in South Korea explicitly reveals the economic structure therein. South Korea’s economy is heavily dependent on trade with the US and China. Moreover, about 17% of national debt is owned by foreign investors. Compared to Japan where 5% of national debt is owned by foreign capital, 17% is a significantly high number that can shake the entire national economy when the capital flows out to other nations (3). In this economic reality where the national economic independence is not achieved but subjugated to imperialistic states, the economic structure is heavily swayed by the demands of the imperialist nations. Accordingly, the ruling class of South Korea loyally served as a mouth piece of the US; that we need the US to achieve national economic development.
These rabble rousing slogans of the ruling class have been challenged by military experts. They have stated that the installation of a US navy base in JeJu island will not bring peace but only agitation among North East Asia nations. Many argue that the presence of a US navy base in JeJu island will render an ideal location for the US and South Korean government when in conflict with China or Japan; hence, the US naval installation is not to keep peace but to prepare for the coming national conflicts between the US and China or Japan(4).
It is worth noting here that US hegemony started to lose its firm ground after World War 2. The US, which was dependent on productive industry and the portion of its industry took 50% of national economy, started to export its industrial capital to peripheral countries. Accordingly, only about 25% of national economy consists of productive industry nowadays. In addition to this economic restructure, the 2008 financial crisis was a huge hit to the US showing the strongest of core imperial nations could not escape the contradiction of its capitalist system (5). In sum, the US does not have a firm economic structure to reinforce its national interest, but only dollars and military force.
This weakening of the US hegemony among various nations has been exemplified by the economic development of China. Until 2002, the top country to which South Korea exported goods was the US. Yet, it changed to China by the end of year 2003. One of the top countries from which South Korea imports good was Japan until 2006, but China replaced that position by the end of 2007 (6).
In light of this new economic reality and weakening of the US hegemony among North East Asia, we can conclude that the installation of a US navy base in the island where 99.8% of trades passes through is an actual fortification of US imperialism.
In sum, the installation of a U.S. navy base on JeJu island is a product of national conflict between imperialist nations in their attempt to appropriate global markets according to their national interest.
If one were to consider the thugs hired by the capitalist ruling class or its underdogs, military and police, as ruthless and loyal servants of their employer, she will be surprised by the following picture.
It is a picture of “hired thugs” crying as they watch the protestor’s camp and their tower being demolished by South Korea navy. Those hired thugs are not some demonic creatures summoned by the capitalist class from the dungeon of the most heinous hell. They are workers. They are precarious workers whose very existence in society is constructed to have that job. Most of them are young university students who have to pay off their tuition debt.
Before I further my analysis, I feel the need to mention that I have no single intention of rationalizing the horrible act of these thugs. Yet I firmly believe that an objective analysis should be based on explicating the structure of the phenomena and its development. The following text hence may appear to be “naturalistic” or a stake in rationalizing the existence of those thugs, but my intention is to closely analyze this political conundrum as much as I can so as to make a sound criticism against the ruling class of South Korea.
The hired thugs are usually called as Yoong- Yuk in Korean, which literally means a service worker. The workers of precarious service related jobs in South Korea have proliferated after the financial crisis that happened in 1997. As the rate of profit for the national economy has steadily decreased since 1970s, despite of prolong recessions and periodical crisis, a new structure for capital accumulation was needed (7). Yet recall that the economy of South Korea is heavily dependent upon the investment of foreign capital and trade with the imperialist states. In the nation where it does not have a colony and its economic structure is conditioned by imperialist state and capital, it has to make an internal colony where it can exploit the cheap labor of workers to resist the fall in the rate of profit. To establish an internal colony within South Korea, or to be specific, within the working class, the South Korean government restructured the national business organization. Deregulations of corporations, dissolution of strong labor union, and massive lay off of employees ensued. This is the impetus of neo-liberalism in South Korea which resulted in creating precarious work and an internal colony within the working class. The neoliberalism was summoned by the ruling class as a new structure for capital accumulation
Neo-liberalism in South Korea, as a new capital accumulation structure, did not depreciate the overly accumulated capital of the capitalist class but reserved it. The state was used to socialize the result of periodical and structural crisis by cutting of welfare, increasing tuition fee, and privatizing medical and education system.
After the neoliberal economic policy was deployed, the average tuition fee of university skyrocketed from 480 million Won (which is equivalent of four thousand dollars) to 754 million Won (equivalent of seven thousand dollars) (8) . Most students who are not from a wealthy family have to take a loan from the bank. To pay off this debt, the students have to work not only during the school year but also during vacations. They usually work as a part time service job related workers. These jobs are very precarious for they get low pay and are constantly exposed to exhortation of wages and often sexual harassment and assaults.
The precarious of work and the very social status of university students in South Korea created the “hired thugs” for capitalists to summon at the whim of some money.
The product of the internal contradiction which resulted in creating vast amount of precarious work is standing in the very place where the external contradiction between imperialist states and neo-colonial state created.
Could this Jeju Island be the weak link in South Korea? Possibly. Yet, what we can learn from this JeJu island issue is that when in the absence of a strong Communist Party where its foundation is based upon the working class and its central goal is to overcome capitalism by establishing a socialist state as a means to end capitalism, the weak link can be the point where the ruthless force of the ruling class bolsters the link with the blood and bones of the people. The weak link objectively exists, but there is no one to hold that link and take control of the rest of the chain.
As much as I would like to end this article with a positive note, I find that simply impossible. The ruling class will establish the US navy base no matter what people say or do. The people who protected the land of JeJu will be dragged out by hired thugs and the South Korean navy. The people who dare to stand against the current regime will be simply categorized as “pro-north Korean commie” and will be sentenced to prison. This is the political reality of “liberal democratic” system. This is the bare face of the so called “Republic” of Korea.
We should face this reality and organize ourselves by establishing a party that is made by the will of the people and controlled by the people and acted by the people: a new Communist Party is needed.
 Future of Korea, 12. Sept. 2011. p18. Web. 1. Feb. 2015