Watching the next round of the Korean factional struggle and subsequently failing to build a logical and consistent version of the events surrounding this quagmire, the author has constantly felt that some piece of the puzzle is missing. However, the sudden disappearance of Counselor Yu Ben Yu has presented the author with the need to carefully study his biography, a feat that undoubtedly will then help him create a hypothesis on the rather interesting chain of maneuvers that are leading to the impeachment of the President of South Korea.
After the disappearance of the former head of the presidential administration, there was no way of serving him with summons to a hearing by the Commission of Inquiry. In the original “Sunsilgeyte,” Counselor Yu failed to appear under these circumstances. His shakedown began after no apparent dirt was found on the president in connection with Choi, after which the investigation began to shake down on all those who had ever been associated with Park Geun-hye. At the same time, some of the author’s respondents have reiterated the fact that Yu had overarching influence and power, and many people either depended on him or were flat-out afraid of him.
To start with, Park Geun-hye is a very introverted person, and one of her unique weaknesses was that she created an inner circle of people she trusted so much that she subsequently failed to periodically assess their loyalty. She was probably of the belief that the people who had worked with her for such a long time and who had actively helped her accomplish very difficult feats in the past would not then play their own loner’s games under the carpet and out of her earshot.
Experience in studying bureaucracy has indeed taught the author that this is never the case. Even in much lower offices, the “king can always play court” while the secretary manages the boss’s affairs, individually selecting what information to supply the boss with, and what details to withhold. Again, when the top official in her service would say, “Madame said to give money,” very few people would go on and recheck whether the leader had actually given such instructions.
Under such conditions, we became accustomed to believing that the top official would always obtain information accurately and on time, with his/her entourage consisting of those loyal to him/her. But what are we supposed to think when one assistant is using its status for lobbying, and another is storing records of the top official’s confidential instructions on their phone in case there is need for compromise?
This is exactly why we cannot exclude a situation in which Park Geun-hye could have been in many respects “separated from the world,” and wholly depended on the information that the officials servicing her supplied. Although this does not relieve her of her ceremonial responsibility for the events unfolding in the country (an ideal assistant, alas, must not implicitly trust people), it does explain a number of oddities, which can be reduced to questions like why the President was kept in the dark about the situation, and why countermeasures were not immediately put into place. The answer is simple. The President had no idea what was going on.
Let us examine the out-of-the-bot merits of this thesis. In failing to take appropriate action during the “Sevola” ferry tragedy, Park Geun-hye’s critics like to point out that when a meeting with her was finally arranged, she supposedly said something like: “How could the children have drowned if they had life jackets? Was it that hard to save them?” For the highly volatile masses, this is similar to the phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.” Nevertheless, the situation is more delicate.
If we can imagine a “by default” maritime accident, then our eyes might form images of a sinking ship with passengers jumping out into the water, waiting for dear help. In such a situation, the question of why people well clad in life jackets drowned is quite logical. However, the “Sevola” ferry disaster was different. The captain’s betrayal and the sluggishness of the rescuers meant that the vast majority of children remained in the cabins and, instead of jumping out and leaving the ship, drowned together with it. Had the President been briefed about these particular details of the tragedy, she, a holder of an engineering degree, would most likely not have asked this seemingly stupid question. This gives witness to the fact that Park Geun-hye was only told the general details of the tragedy, and that particular details of the disaster, which claimed so many children’s lives, were not relayed to her at all.
Another interesting point to recall is that, for various reasons, even in the midst of the search and rescue operations on the central channels, the whole operation to save the children’s lives was already being announced to have ended successfully, and that all the children had been saved. We can thus only logically conclude that this is what the president was told. How could she have found out that actually, the events of that day had played out quite differently, by whom, and from where? Who would have advised her to drop everything and go manage things on-site?
By the way, many of the errors of the US Military Administration in Korea between 1945 and 1948 were also related to the fact that, without knowing the Korean language or Korean specifics, officers of the United States were at the mercy of their interpreters, who usually belonged to the former collaborators, which is why the information they received on the situation in the country was more than biased.
If we dare delve into the chronicles of history, it is worth noting that the factional struggle may be called the principal Korean national sport. The country’s rather somber history is replete with examples of how big and important issues were tuck-and-rolled because, instead of having to keep up with each other, the participants mostly tried to trip each other. This was the situation, for example, with the Korean Communist Party in 1925 and 1928, when it was eventually simply kicked out of the Communist International after three years of the four central committees and one faction simply selling each other out to the Japanese.
Combining this with the above leads to the fact that the top official’s inner circle may include several such favorites that can be competing intensely for “access to the body,” scouring out competitors and talking a load of dirt about them. Something similar seems to have happened in history. It is clear that Choi Sung Sil and Yu Ben Yu could have most likely been involved in some corruption schemes, taking part in some shady lobbying ventures and using their status to gain access to profitable projects. However, shortly before the ‘Sunsilgeyt’ in August 2016, Yu was subsequently dismissed from his post. It is not clear whether Choi tried, or whether there was a compromise associated with land speculation, or whether one was superimposed on the other.
Park Geun-hye has behaved just like the daughter of her father, who, during his term in office, dealt away with corrupt officials despite their rank and title. He even removed his right hand, Kim Jong Phil, several times from office, after the latter was repeatedly linked to several corruption scandals. Therefore, when Yu began “spinning” things, instead of protecting him, the President immediately fired him.
Remaining a very influential person, the disgraced councilor began plotting revenge, responding to exposure with exposure, tit-for-tat. Among the people surrounding the President, he is in no lack of trusted people who can gather very real evidence proving Choi Sung Sil’s interference in political affairs, prepare some really damning evidence on a platter, plant it in the right place, and lure the media to it. Since the opposition has already raised this issue, journalists would only be happy to inflate this scandal, to which all of Park’s critics would readily subscribe, after which she would be forced to get rid of her compromised friend.
Important to remember here is that a long and hard tug-of-war scenario has existed between the prosecutor’s office, on the one hand, and the intelligence service and the Presidential Administration, on the other hand. Those who carefully read the works of the author must remember the incident when the prosecutor’s office tried to frame the Head of Intelligence for interfering in elections and corruption, but the intelligence and related officials from the AP orchestrated a backfire. After it was revealed that the Attorney General had an illegitimate son whom he was caring for, he was forced to leave his post. And after a while, when the conservatives had finally accomplished their offensive, not only did the conservative candidate, Hwan Ahn, become prime minister, but the Head of Intelligence was also acquitted. No doubt, the prosecutors certainly seized on the opportunity to “return the favour,” and did not wonder about the ethicality of filing case evidence obtained by unlawful means and having a certain probability of fabrication.
The problem turned out to be otherwise. Yu was counting on a wind that would blow out his enemies, but instead got a typhoon that swept everyone and everything, because even Park’s enemies, both left and right, all benefited from such a highly versatile newsworthy event. At the same time, they had almost the whole of the press under their control, with the leftist media never having liked Park, while the leading conservative newspapers, including English-speaking ones, were not under the control of supporters of Park Geun-hye, and messing with them would have been too risky even for the President.
If the readers recalls the story of how the Japanese journalist, Tatsuya Kato, started a rumor that, at the time the Sevola disaster happened, Park Geun-hye was enjoying the bliss of a love-date, and was almost sentenced to prison for this, then they should also remember that Kato was later linked to “Chosun Ilbo,” against which, unlike the Japanese, no one put forward any charges.
The media lit up their match by pointing out that the dissatisfaction with the President had been accumulating for a long time. This kindled a lot of emotion. And because all the TV channels and newspapers were on the same side of the barricades, taking hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets was a walk-over.
Consequentially, the scandal surrounding Park and Choi quickly gained national momentum, as it allowed officially throwing out all the tension and all the hostility that people, from different elements of the society that were completely different and often mutually exclusive, had towards Park. As often is the case, uniting against someone is always easier than uniting behind someone.
It is important to understand here that the profane understanding of the intrigue is based on two, actually not quite true, postulates. The first alludes to the fact that the initiator of the plot must be its greatest beneficiary. The second alludes to the fact that the “cunning plan is from beginning to end always under the control of the person who devises it.” Alas, the more complex and sophisticated the many perspectives, the greater the likelihood that at some point, “something goes wrong” and the situation gets out of control, including the fact that other people apart from the original perpetrator would try to saddle the wave and derive maximum benefit from it. As a result, what may be initially conceived as a local affair could ultimately lead to the impeachment of the president and a major political split in the right camp.
Had the ruling party been united, it would have had enough capacity to ensure that the suspicions were relegated to “unfounded suspicions and rumors spread by the opposition.” However, after the tablet was thrown, and Park Geun-hye frankly admitted that, yes, there was room for correction, the avalanche began unabatedly rolling down the mountain, being reinvigorated by more avalanches and new compromising material, which again, was thrown in by representatives not of the left, but the right-wing camp. After this, the assumptions on factional benefits also prevailed during the vote to impeach.
As a result, the rightists played themselves to a loss, while the leftists obtained a revamped success and an opportunity to use this wave to reach all of “Park’s minions,” since, with her lawyers submitting claims on the lack of an evidence-base for the impeachment, they are yet to find anything referencing the President’s involvement in the corruption schemes. Not with Choi, but with someone else. But this calls for real evidence, not some “reasonable suspicion” or a certain story, or some rumors.
It is most likely that Yu did not expect that the compromise linking them to each other would bring such over-the-top consequences, and that he would also be affected. However, he is evidencing now and in many respects he is being questioned, whether it is him (or one of his relatives or clients) who is associated with Choi.
Of course, this is a “working version” with a certain touch of conspiracy. Nevertheless, the author is presenting it to the discretion of the readers remembering how stupidity and carelessness have often been detected in places where some involute plot was expected. Anyway, anyone wishing to understand all this historical fiasco must also understand the peculiarities of Korean fractionalism and some of the basic principles of “intrigology.”
Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“