This past week or so I have had a chance to immerse myself in Korean culture leading a multiparty learning visit to South Korea.
Like many people I am sure, I have read the headlines and am aware of ongoing conflicts and some of the news linked to the Korean Peninsular. Last year at Newbury Talks we had a fascinating talk from Alistair Coleman of BBC monitoring about the relationship between North Korea and the USA. What I learnt in the South was not what I expected to hear.
Before we get to international politics, I was intrigued to learn that South Korea has the fastest internet in the world. They already have 5G up and running and all the areas that I visited were very well connected to high speed mobile networks. The infrastructure is not perfect, there are cables all over the place in a way that the UK would not tolerate, but they still have achieved this very quickly and ahead of Europe.
Our learning tour started at Hanshin University, hearing about the relationship between South Korea and Japan. This is becoming a huge problem. The long running quest for compensation and acknowledgement for women, many now in their 80s and 90s, who were used as sex slaves during Japanese occupation before WWII when many were just children, has become bizarrely mixed up with a high tech trade war. ‘Out of the blue’ a few years ago, Japan slowed the supply of critical chemicals to South Korea’s semi conductor industry. There was no doubt in South Korea that the move was linked to the Supreme Court judgement in favour of reparation from Japan to the so-called ‘comfort women’. This is a full-on collision between high principle and modern trade, and I was sorry to hear that many of the women involved are dying before they have received any formal acknowledgement from Japan. The issue is still live because it is only with the rising gender equality in South Korea, in recent years, that the women have felt able to speak about their experiences.
The other massive issue for South Korea is of course the nuclear North. With China to the North of them and US in the South, they really are stuck in the middle with Kim. It was President Moon who instigated the first contact between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un in an attempt to break years of no progress, and the first surprise for me was to hear Donald Trump spoken of in appreciative terms. Trump’s interventions with Chairman Kim are valued and encouraged. Kim Jong-Un, likewise, is seen as a savvy leader who understands that, as a small country caught between US and China, it is the existence of his nuclear missiles that maintains his country’s existence.
The real surprise in all this was that at the same time as having the unsettling presence of live nuclear missiles just 40 miles from Seoul and being in a fairly impossible position at the crux of this diplomatic cleft stick, we met ministers and diplomats with clear ideas about how relations with the North may yet be eased through increased cultural, diplomatic ties and, eventually, perhaps, through shared industry and trade between the North and South.
South Korea takes inspiration from the EU as a peace project. In the Union they see former enemies working together to create a positive, caring, civil society – and a successful trading block. And they want the same for their future.
Meanwhile, back in the U.K., with an extension to Article 50 in the bag and Johnson’s deal mysteriously ‘paused’, preparations finally began for the General Election on December 12th.
This election offers the opportunity for everyone in the U.K. to have a say in how they wish the country to be run, our relationship with the European Union and our role in the wider world. Do we want to be a bit player on the sidelines or acting alongside our neighbours on the main stage where our renowned experience and expertise in foreign affairs can be – and has been for the past forty years – put to tremendous and lasting good use.
Please make sure that your friends and family are registered to vote. This is the link to share, if they are not: REGISTER
If you fancy getting involved, it’s best to get in touch with your local Remain team and ask how you can help. In every campaign there are tasks for all ages, all energies and many skills, from the muscle to put out those diamonds to telephone skills for the phone canvassing that will be a huge part of this winter election, as well as the usual leaflet stuffing and delivering and all important canvassing.
And remember to tell your friends: Brexit is Not Inevitable.
I look forward to seeing you in the South East in the weeks to come to #StopBrexit