Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

So I don't know how "emergent" this new Korean president is, but he is clearly much more aware of the Web than most world leaders. Korea has always been touted as leading Asia in Internet. It sounds like they are leading in Internet democracy as well.

The Guardian
Jonathan Watts in Seoul
Monday February 24, 2003
The Guardian

World's first internet president logs on
"The development of internet technology has changed the whole political dynamic in South Korea to an extent that the outside world has not yet grasped," said Yoon Yong-kwan, the head of foreign policy formulation in Mr Roh's transitional team. "It will affect foreign policy."

Korea has looked very progress recently. Having said that, I recently met with a fellow GLT who told me that they were throwing entrepreneurs in jail with fake charges just because they lost money for important people or pissed of the establishment. These stories sounded horrific and not what I would expect from a leading democracy. I don't know if these stories are true, but if they are, maybe this Internet enabled president will be able to change things.

Thanks for the link Khalid!


The good news is that the new president of South Korea speaks HTML. That's pretty cool.

The bad news is that, at least until a few weeks ago, he had never traveled outside Korea. Not so cool.

Roh's instincts are to treat the North Koreans with kid gloves. The US may or may not like this, but it's unlikely to completely override his wishes except in the most extreme circumstances. For all our sakes, I hope Roh is right.

Your friend is probably referring to last week's shock arrest of a leading chaebol figure, chair of the SK Group (of SK telecom fame)for alleged insider trading with JP Morgan bank. The Korean FTC is now investigating other leading chaebol, like Samsung, LG, Hyundai etc. as well as smaller players, such as KT Corp and KEPCO. The people behind all this activity seem to be People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

It is true the Roh is Internet-savy, enough to setup his campaign headquarter with intranet and create websites himself. Apparently, he even had to educate his aides about the Internet and the virtues of the Net. He spends most of his spare time surfing the web to get information and to find out what people think.

He is not well travelled, but that is only because he didn't feel the need. Yes, there is virtue in seeing how other countries work, but most of that can be learned over the Web. What he dislikes is traditional Korean politicians' tendency to 'go abroad' to bring back trophies (pictures of them meeting well known figures and visits to Universities, etc.) to impress the folks at home.

As to his 'instincts to treat North Koreans with kid globes', you are seriously mistaken. I have studied how Koreans personalities, and Roh's personality is what I would call 'Iron Heart'. He might walk softly, but when a hard decision has to be made, he is not the type to backdown. He is also very aware of what North Korea is. Actually, I am concerned that he might start a war because of his stubborn streak.

Arrest of SK Chairman is well done in my opinion. Chaebol are public companies, but are run by chaebol families as if they were their private businesses for their own profit and not for the shareholders. Could a US corporation secretly spend half a billion dollar? This is what Hyundae did, sending the money to Kim Jong-Il at the request of Kim Dae-Joong. So arrest of SK Chairman is cause for SK stock to go up.

I forgot to comment on Korean entrepreneurs being thrown in jail because they pissed off powerful folks or because they lost money. I have zero sympathy for them. I have met quite a number of Korean entrepreneurs and most of them disgusted me with their eagerness to make a killing in spite of investors. Bribery and incestous relationships with other entrepreneurs are just the tip of the iceburg. Spend a few nights drinking with them, listening to their boasts, watching them flush other people's money down the toilet. America's own dot.bomb entrepreneurs are saints compared to those assholes.

Yes, there is virtue in seeing how other countries work, but most of that can be learned over the Web.

With all due respect, I couldn't disagree more with the second half of this assertion. If you want to understand not only what people from other nations think, but how and why they think as they do, there is simply no substitute for visiting them, immersing oneself in their culture, learning their language... no substitute.

As to his 'instincts to treat North Koreans with kid globes', you are seriously mistaken.

Roh has publicly suggested that the use of force as a last resort for dealing with the situation be taken off the table. He has publicly suggested that we simply give the North Koreans what they are asking for -- again, as we did in 1994 -- to resolve the crisis. From the BBC:

"North Korea was opening up and is already changing. If we give them what they desperately want -- regime security, normal treatment and economic assistance -- they will be willing to give up their nuclear ambitions. We should not, therefore, treat them as criminals, but as partners in negotiations."

Sounds like kid gloves to me.

Frank, you are right that one can't learn everything about other countries over the web, but the point is Mr. Roh can learn more about other countries over the Web than the usual pointless hurried trips made by politicians. What you are suggesting can only be learned by backpacking around the world.

As to your comments on what Mr. Roh said, what do you suggest he do? If you had enough artillery pointed at your largest city to level it before anything can be done, what would you do? Knowing what is ahead is not enough. You must also have full support of the people to take drastic actions. Even if Mr. Roh knows that North Korean problem can only solved once and for all by attacking pre-emptively, he can't do it now and he certainly can't talk as if he will.

Don, I'm not happy with how any of the major powers are responding to the North Korean crisis.

The US response has been to basically hope the situation will go away, and to refuse bilateral talks. The South Korean response has been to disavow even the possibility of the military option. The response of the rest of the world -- especially China -- has been to say this is the US' problem to deal with.

So, with that said, you asked what I suggest Roh do. I'll offer suggestions for everyone:

The US needs to actively engage on this issue. One visit by Colin Powell isn't enough. Where is Cheney? Where is Rice? They need to be there, on the ground, conferring with our allies. Every day this is allowed to drag on is another day the North Koreans increase their stockpile of nuclear materials.

The South Koreans need to make it clear to the North Koreans -- privately, so as not to cause them to lose face -- that they will not be allowed to retain nuclear weapons. They need to make it clear that they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure they don't have to live under the shadow of a nuclear-equipped North Korean dictatorship. Of course, they should make it clear that they'd much rather resolve the situation peacefully -- but that, one way or the other, it will be resolved.

China, Russia, and Japan need to line up with the US and tell the North Koreans that this is a multilateral problem and that it requires a multilateral solution. It is unacceptable for the rest of the world to expect the US to handle this on its own, unless they're also happy to let the US make and implement whatever solution it regards as appropriate.

The UN Security Council needs to step up to the plate. The North Koreans have violated and now withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. What is the UN going to do about it? At a minimum, the UN should inform North Korea that it will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that no nuclear weapons components or materials are exported to any other country.