Korea Times | Opinion | 05-23-2006
Violent Demonstrations Cannot be Justified Under Any Pretext
Korea and the United States will start formal negotiations on a bilateral free trade accord in Washington on June 5. Flying to the U.S. capital for the occasion are not only government delegates but also a contingent of about 100 demonstrators, who represent various anti-globalization groups. Having heard much about Korean protesters’ militancy, local police have reportedly entered a state of emergency. It is disheartening to see violent demonstrations becoming a part of Korea’s national image abroad.
The “headquarters of the pan-national movement to stop the Korea-U.S. FTA” pledged Monday to stage ``legal and peaceful’’ protest rallies. If they keep to their words, few would block them from making their ``demonstration expedition.” However, as the old saying goes, ``once burnt, twice shy.’’ The movement’s headquarters comprise of the groups that led the violent demonstrations during the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December. But Washington is not Hong Kong.
U.S. police officers have already informed the Korean embassy that they would deal sternly with any illegal acts by applying the anti-terrorist act. If the peaceful protests turn violent by accident or because some protestors change their minds as they did in Hong Kong, it could lead to massive injuries and arrests. The resultant diplomatic row could further freeze the already chilly relationship between the two countries. The chance of mishaps would only grow if the protestors join forces with anti-globalization groups there.
The government’s latest calls for canceling the protest tour, however, were belated and ineffective. Seoul is rightly concerned about damage to our national image and damage to our national interests, such as a delay in the U.S. visa waiver programs. However, it is questionable whether the government has kept its promise of conducting the talks transparently, reflecting the opinions of various sectors. Of the 17 FTA advisory panels, only three had met before the two countries exchanged draft proposals Monday.
We have said Korea should not push hurriedly for an FTA with the U.S. Now that the talks are to start soon, however, it is no longer a matter of yes or no, but a question of correct speed and procedure. Depending on the outcome of the bilateral bargaining, Korea can maximize gains while minimizing losses. On the bright side, the protests may help government negotiators withstand U.S. pressures on Korea’s weak sectors. But there is a precondition: The protests must be orderly and peaceful.
Violence cannot be justified under any pretext. Korean protesters have made previous headlines throughout the world _ Geneva, Brussels, Cancun and Hong Kong _ sometimes by hurting others or themselves. They need not _ and should not _ add Washington to the list of cities. What matters are not emotional outbursts but cool, realistic calculation.