Best columns: International
South Korea: The president and the cult leader’s daughter
Has the South Korean president been a mere puppet all along? asked the Chosun Ilbo in an editorial. Koreans are demanding to know how much access President Park Geun-hye gave to her longtime friend and adviser, Choi Soon-sil, who was arrested this week over allegations that she exerted inappropriate influence in state affairs. Despite having no security clearance, Choi, 60, was reportedly involved in almost every aspect of “Park’s opaque administration,” including editing the president’s speeches, vetting her appointments, and picking her outfits. Worse, the relationship looks corrupt. Choi allegedly traded on her closeness with Park, 64, to raise some $70 million from major South Korean businesses— money that was intended for Choi’s two charitable foundations, but some of which ended up in her own pocket. Choi, who denies any wrongdoing, was finally caught out when she used her influence to get her daughter into one of the country’s most prestigious universities—even though her grades weren’t nearly good enough. Angry students and parents demanded an inquiry, and the investigation uncovered Choi’s ties to Park.
That relationship goes back decades, said Yi Whan-woo in The Korea Times. Choi’s father, a charismatic, Rasputin-like cult leader named Choi Tae-min, befriended a young Park soon after her mother—South Korea’s former first lady—was assassinated in 1974. Claiming he could communicate with her mother’s spirit, the cult leader became Park’s mentor, advising her as she assumed the duties of first lady for her father, military dictator Park Chung-hee. After Choi Tae-min died, in 1994, his daughter was rumored to have taken over leadership of his sect, and many Koreans now believe this “cultist confidant” has been guiding Park ever since Park was elected president in 2013. Choi exploited this position of power to enrich herself and her “boy toy,” said Chung Hyun-chae, also in The Korea Times. She used her influence with Park to launch Ko Young-tae, a former male escort 20 years her junior, in the fashion industry. His accessories company took off after Park started carrying his handbags. Ko is also suspected of managing two shell companies that allegedly funneled cash out of Choi’s foundations.
Park’s entire administration is implicated in this farce, said The Hankyoreh. Her three top aides routinely passed Choi thick briefing folders. Thanks to them, Choi was “intimately acquainted with top-level secrets involving back-channel meetings between the South and North Korean militaries.” All of our state institutions were “craven and weak in the face of a behindthe-scenes power broker.” Our nation’s reputation for stability has been shattered, said the Dong-a Ilbo. The foreign media are portraying the scandal as if “the entire Korean society is being swayed by a religious sect.” Our economy was already in distress, and now our nation’s credit rating could drop. Tens of thousands of protesters are massing in Seoul, demanding Park’s impeachment. “The ship of the Republic of Korea has started tilting, but the captain has lost control over its crew members.”
‘Screwed’ over by our leaders
Ana Paula Ordorica
President Enrique Peña Nieto has written his own political epitaph, said Ana Paula Ordorica. In a “most unfortunate turn of phrase,” while defending his disastrous decision to invite Republican nominee Donald Trump to Mexico this past summer, Peña Nieto burst out, “No president gets up in the morning with the intention of screwing over Mexico.” Actually, he used a rather more vulgar verb. “The despair that led him to make such a frank statement says a lot” about the poor job he’s doing. A leading member of his ruling PRI party, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte, pillaged his state’s coffers for months before finally being kicked out of office. Yet even then authorities failed to arrest him in time, so he’s now on the run. Duarte’s penchant for “grabbing fistfuls” of cash from state accounts was hardly a secret—I even wrote a column about it more than a year ago—so why was he allowed to stay in office and then escape justice? And why are two other state governors, also from the PRI, only now under investigation despite less-than-clean reputations? Could it be because they all donated lavishly to Peña Nieto’s campaign? Maybe the president doesn’t wake up plotting ways to cheat us, but most Mexicans “feel that, indeed, we have been screwed.”
Anti-Pakistan backlash at the movies
Bollywood is giving in to terrorist threats, said Sidharth Bhatia. Indian director Karan Johar has promised not to cast Pakistani actors in his films, after a far-right group threatened to attack movie theaters showing his latest movie starring Pakistani heartthrob Fawad Khan. The video of “an abject Johar” asking for forgiveness for his casting decision looks like “one of those hostage situations, where the victim is made to admit that he is a spy.” In effect, he has been taken hostage by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a Hindu nationalist party, and he has caved to their demands. He isn’t the only one. Many cinemas say they will not show films with Pakistanis in them because they fear for the safety of their employees and audiences. The anti-Pakistani sentiment has been growing in recent months as the tension over the disputed province of Kashmir has risen. India’s government, far from attempting to calm people down, has encouraged this rage. “There is an atmosphere of anger at Pakistan in India,” said Information Minister Venkaiah Naidu, “and people from all walks of life have to be mindful about it.” That sounds like a threat, doesn’t it? What next? Will we be blacklisted for “reading Pakistani authors or being Facebook friends with Pakistanis?”