Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
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[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution with written permission to ICAS of Yeri Kim. This paper was her senior thesis. sjk]
Exploring 120 Years of US-ROK Relations
One way to analyze the developments in US-South Korea relations is through the controversy surrounding the current US Embassy building. Located in the center of downtown Seoul, the building started out as the center of US aid to Korea in the early 1960s. By the early 1970s, the US had ended its aid program, and the building came to house the current embassy as the main chancery.1 For various reasons, the Korean government of the 1980s wanted the Embassy out of its current building, and sold the US government the Kyunggi Girl's High School site in 1986. It also initiated taking back other US-occupied sites, such as the Yongsan military base and various housing compounds for Embassy workers. The desire to oust the US military presence from downtown Seoul has escalated in recent years, and the move seems to be on way. However, the US Embassy itself has still not moved after over fifteen years; various non-governmental organizations, as well as the Seoul City Government, have blocked the move of the Embassy from its current location because of struggles over finance and popular opposition.
Opponents to the new US Embassy building argue that it is sited on ancient palace grounds. The Citizen's Coalition Against the Building of the US Embassy and Compound, an umbrella non-governmental organization that coordinates opposition, contends that the proposed construction constitutes a breach of Korea's sovereignty and five thousand years of history. For them, it exemplifies the disrespectful way in which the US treats South Korea in general. American officials, however, find it difficult to understand the opposition, because the ancient palace that the NGOs refer to is the same palace where King Kojong resided in 1882, when he invited the US into South Korea to ward off Chinese and Japanese aggression, the same palace that housed the original American legation. Besides, the American government owns the land. They also point out that it was the Korean government that asked the US to move to the new site in the first place. Whether the Korean government or these various civil groups speak for the majority of the Korean people lies at the heart of the problem.
To understand the controversy over the US Embassy site, it is necessary to place it in the larger historical context of Korea's democratization. Doing so will provide insight into not only the controversy but also the larger themes in the history of US-ROK relations. The controversy reflects the changes in the nature of American involvement in South Korea and, on a deeper level, illuminates a growing debate over the nature of the US presence in South Korea. In today's post-Cold War environment in which the North Korean threat has increased, US-ROK relations will remain crucial to the interests of both nations. 2 Accordingly, the controversy over the US Embassy Building's site in Seoul reflects the future prospects of US-ROK relations. Failure to come to a compromise on this issue will signify that the US and South Korea are not ready to move away from their past relations, characterized by US economic aid and military domination, to work toward a modern diplomatic relationship characterized by mutual respect.
Major secondary sources on general US-ROK relations view the history of US presence in ROK in one of two ways. On the economic front, scholars have traditionally attributed ROK's rapid economic growth to US aid and trade. However, recent scholars like Hyun-dong Kim increasingly see the US as unfairly forcing free trade on ROK while the US hypocritically enacts restrictive trade laws. 3 On the military front, Ronald D. McLaurin and other scholars see the US military presence in Korea as the best guarantee of peace and stability in the region. 4 Meanwhile, scholars including Jongsuk Chay believe the US military base in ROK is self-serving. 5 I argue that economically and militaristically, the US and the ROK have benefited mutually through their cooperation. The strains that have existed and continue to exist in US-ROK relations have resulted from missteps made by both the US and Korea, missteps that occurred because of both countries' policies that were dictated by their own needs and assumptions while often ignoring those of the other country. Because the ROK is no longer a poor nation emerging out of war, both countries need to realize that US-ROK relations must be characterized by diplomacy, not by economic aid or military domination.
The US and Korea Discover Each Other: Exchanges During the Choson Dynasty
Throughout its history, Korea's diplomatic relations were limited to contacts with China and Japan. 6 The isolationist tendencies of the Choson Dynasty (1391-1910) characterized Korea as a Hermit Kingdom that seemed to have ties with only China as a tributary state. However, as Western presence in China and Japan grew, Korea was exposed to foreigners. The first contact between American sailors and Korean people occurred in the 1850s, quite a few of them a result of shipwrecks. In all the recorded cases, Korea refused American requests for trade, but treated the foreigners well before taking them to Beijing. 7 However, the arrival of one specific ship that carried three American citizens among other shipmates deserves mention because it triggered an assertive, or maybe even an aggressive, American interest in Korea.
The General Sherman entered Korea through the Taedong River near Pyongyang in July of 1866 with the intent of trading. Despite warnings by Korean magistrates that Korean policy forbid the trading with the locals, the foreigners insisted on trade. Misunderstanding and a language barrier led to hostility, and resulted in the Americans' capture of a small Korean boat and the kidnapping of three Korean officials. A violent clash followed, in which the residents of the Korean village killed the entire crew of twenty-four men and burned the ship. 8 This skirmish, instead of warding off the United States, fomented a furthering of American interest in the Korean peninsula by leading to an official investigation of the Sherman case.
Two investigative that sought to determine what had led to the deaths of American sailors followed the General Sherman case. Both failed; however, they led to an increasing American interest in Korea. In 1870, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish directed the US Minister to China, Frederick Low, to negotiate a treaty of trade and protection of seamen. 9 Low's expedition, comprised of gunboats, departed for Korea in 1871. When Low's ships entered through the Han River, Korean soldiers at a nearby fort fired at them, which intensified into what a Korean Guardian General of the area described as a "barbarous American attack … committing public buildings to the flames, burning cottages, stealing property." 10 The fight was followed by letter exchanges between the Korean government and Low, but American attempts to open up Korea proved futile, once again.
Continued pressure for Korea to open and Korea's refusal to do so culminated when Japanese warships collided with Korean ships near Kanghwa Island, leading to the Kanghwa Treaty in 1876. Japan, after having been forced open by Commodore Perry, viewed Korea as one of its weak neighbors that it would attack in order to expel the Western invaders in East Asia. 11 When Korea fired upon a Japanese warship off the Korean coast in 1875, Japan saw a chance to open up the hermit land. Through the Kanghwa Treaty, Japan granted itself special rights and privileges and thus ended Korea’s seclusion policy. This treaty marked Korea's first modern agreement, as well as the opening up of Korea. 12 Only after the precedent of Korean's opening up to foreign nations, would the American government successfully complete a treaty with Korea. 13
Thus far, Korea had expressed no interest in opening up to America, or any other western nations. 14 However, new domestic forces drove Korea to change its status. Various foreign attempts to open up Korea precipitated a struggle between isolationist conservatives and reformist progressives, a struggle that in various forms, could be said to have continued until today. Under the father of King Kojong, Taewongun, who had served as Kojong's regent, the conservatives had the upper hand. However, Taewongun was forced to resign from his regency in 1873 and King Kojong took over the throne. As a result, the reformist progressives gathered more power. 15 King Kojong was very much influenced by the Self- strengthening movement, through which Korean intellectuals promoted the taking on of Western ideas and "modernization" as a way to ensure Korea's survival and independence in a new era of foreign relations. 16 This movement had been gaining momentum during this period, and lent support to progressives' argument that Korea needed to learn the ways of the western civilizations. King Kojong believed that in order to survive among Chinese, Japanese, and Russian, he needed to lead the building of a wealthy and strong nation through modernization. Accentuating this argument, Korea needed a powerful but a distant country that would guide its transformation. 17 Thus began more than a century of debate over the modernization of Korea - a debate that would eventually involve the US embassy building.
In this environment, Korea gave a positive response to American wish to conduct a treaty. On May 15, 1882, the Korean and the American government signed "a Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation." Rapid American involvement in the Korean peninsula ensued. In May of 1883 the first American minister, Lucius Foote (1883-1885), arrived in Korea as the State Department's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. In August of 1884, Foote bought two adjacent pieces of property from the aristocratic Min family for approximately $2,200. One property is believed to have been used as the place of his residence, and the other as the legation office. Mr. Foote paid for these properties himself as Congress adjourned that year without appropriating money for them. 18 This original compound stood where the Habib House, the resident of the US Ambassador to Korea, now stands, a fact that supports the US claim to the area near Duksoo Palace. 19
In the years that followed, the US took various actions that seemed to further legitimize the bilateral relationship. In 1887 the US government officially purchased of the building for $4,400 from Foote. 20 Then, on March 8, 1888, the Seoul City Office recorded the land as being sold "forever." 21 In the mid-1890s, under Minister John M. B. Sill, the legation employed approximately a fifty-men guard. 22 The growth in the legation reflected a growing economic interest in Korea, but King Kojong soon discovered that he would not profit from the relationship as hoped, that he would not receive the type of protection he had expected from China and Japan.
To King Kojong's dismay, upon the conclusion of Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Korea was "forced" by the Japanese to sign the Treaty of Protectorate, which gave Japan the authority to handle Korea's foreign affairs. The US supported the Treaty by leaving Korea after twenty-two years, and ignored King Kojong's reasons for establishing a diplomatic relationship with the US. The US at the end of the nineteenth century was more concerned with its relationships with Japan and China, and Korea was caught up in the US' larger geopolitical strategizing in Asia - a situation that would repeat itself, especially during the Cold War.
Two questions arise. First, the story of early US-Korean relations is open to two different interpretations. Did the US force Korea to open up against Korea's will, and thus act as a bully toward Korea from the start? Or did Korea want a relationship with the US in order to counterbalance Japanese and Chinese aggression?
Ironically, both ways of interpreting the beginning stages of US-Korea relations are valid; the establishment of a formal relation was mutually desirable and beneficial. As shown, the US attempted to found a relationship with Korea out of self-interests, primarily trade and the welfare of shipwrecked American sailors. At times, the US resorted to violence, but these instances partially resulted from language and cultural barriers, rather than hostility and imperialist tendencies. Important to note is that the US did not succeed in establishing a trade relationship with Korea until Korea, out of its own volition, agreed to do so. It is not certain how much longer Korea could have remained a hermit against a global trend of international trade and colonization, and maybe the US would have successfully forced Korea open even if Korea had opposed it. However, the fact remains that the Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, and Navigation was signed under both US' and at least some of the Korean leadership's belief that the ensuing relationship would be valuable to both countries. This understanding of the early US- Korea relations will prove crucial in grasping the key concepts used in the controversy over the proposed Embassy site.
Also important to note is that Koreans during this period were divided over Korea's future as they entered the twentieth century, a case similar to how Koreans today are divided over how US-ROK relations should play out in the twenty-first century. The US embassy building, a physical symbol of US presence in South Korea and, to some, a painful reminder of US imperialism in the southern half of the Korean peninsula, embodies the fork in the road Korea is yet again facing as a nation. The US once again serves as the catalyst through which Korea will decide her own future.
A second question arises: did the US abandon Korea in her time of need? Did not Korea want US presence precisely to protect itself against foreign intrusions in 1905? Through the Taft-Katsura Agreement, the US governed the Philippines, while the Japanese established a suzerainty over Korea, doing exactly what Korea had opposed. 23 Once again, the US' larger geopolitical concern in Asia placed Korea aside. Today, a well-established civil rights group in South Korea looks back and accuses the US of severing US-Korean relations unilaterally and leaving the country vulnerable to Japanese imperialists. 24 Other organizations, such as the Korea WebWeekly and Korean American Heritage, also blame the US for allowing Japan to annex Korea. 25 How these associations interpret the history of US-ROK relations shows that today's anti- American sentiments are not understood as an unfounded phenomenon, but a reaction to years of injustice.
Despites the reasons behind the Taft-Katsura Agreement, the Agreement can be, and is, interpreted as an act of American imperialism. To the US, pulling out of Korea was probably the most logical course of action. The US government did not have a large stake in Northeast Asia during this period, nor did it have a special interest in the affairs of Korea. Still, American missionaries in Korea at the time opposed Japanese rule of Korea. 26 Some missionaries even believed that the US Minister Horace N. Allen (1901-1905) resigned because "he found himself morally unable to acquiesce in the actions of the Japanese in the peninsula." 27 However, to those who oppose the current US presence in and power of South Korea, the American severing of relations with Korea, or the American "betrayal," serves as yet another example of how power-hungry the US is. 28 To them, US-Korean relations from the start were based on American imperialism and exploitation that resulted from a power imbalance.
From US Military Occupation to the Korean War
Korea and the US did not have a formal diplomatic relationship after 1910 until the end of WWII. 29 Although the Allied Powers saw an independent Korea in the post-WWII world, what actually occurred was the division of the Korean peninsula, which would eventually lead toward the establishment of two sovereign Koreas. Two major legacies from the period between the end of WWII and the outbreak of Korean War have an impact on current anti-American sentiments among a number of Koreans.
First, a number of citizens, as well as scholars and politicians, blame the US for the division of the peninsula. 30 Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War on June 25, 1950, protests occurred against the US troops stationed in Korea after the conclusion of WWII, the most infamous being the Cheju Uprising and Massacre. On March 1, 1948, the people of Cheju commemorated the Independence Movement against the Japanese Imperial powers. During this ceremony, they also demanded the withdrawal of the US from Korea, opposing the split of the Korean peninsula. The US forces on Cheju Island countered this protest with gunfire, killing six and injuring many more of the protesters. 31 On April 3, 1948, 1,500 residents of Cheju attacked ten US police stations and Korean police stations that were under the US command. How the US forces reacted to these protesters is today often described as a massacre; the estimated number of fatalities from the uprising varies from 1,002 to 30,000. 32 Influenced by the Cold War ideology, the US forces mistakenly viewed the uprising as a communist activity.
Of course, members belonging to the Communist Party, both Korean and foreign observers, also faulted the US for Korea's split. One book published in China right after the Korean armistice recorded that "through U.S. manipulation, the Second U.N. General Assembly adopted an illegal resolution on Korea based on the U.S. draft resolution." 33 The US military closed down The Liberation Daily, the "organ of the Korean Communist Party," and a few months later, outlawed the Korean Community Party in the south. 34
A sector of the Korean population in the mid-twentieth century, along with many opponents of the US presence on the Korean peninsula today, faulted the US government for being strategic and political in its decision to divide the peninsula at the 38th parallel, as a part of the containment policy. 35 They are upset because the US did not consult the Korean people, but they fail to take into account that the US is a nation-state with its own interests and agenda. Especially at the end of WWII, the US was just becoming a world power, was new to the politics of Northeast Asia, and unfamiliar with Korea. Furthermore, the suppressing of Korean independence movement was a part of a larger US policy that ignored legitimate anti-colonial sentiment in the name of containment. US actions are understandable within this context, but they are certainly open to criticism as well.
A second legacy from the period between WWII and the Korean War is that of US military presence on the Korean peninsula, a presence around which much of today's anti-American activism takes place. The US military remained on the peninsula between 1945 and 1948, during which it viewed Korea as an enemy state. The United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGK) kept the Japanese police infrastructure to maintain domestic peace and order, and hired Korean personnel who were part of the Japanese administration during its rule. 36 By doing so, the US again ignored the prevailing sentiments of the Korean people, in this case, the anti- colonial sentiments.
Not only did the US employ Japanese and pro-Japanese Koreans, but also it preserved laws enacted under Japanese rule. 37 When the American "liberators" treated the Koreans like inferior enemies as their previous oppressors had done, it was natural for Koreans to view the US as just another colonial power. A popular saying following the end of WWII reflects this sentiment: "Don’t be deceived by the Soviets, Don’t count on the Americans, The Japanese will soon rise again, So, Koreans, look out for yourselves." 38 This saying reflects the Korean attitude, and points to the gulf that existed between the US and Korean interpretation of US' involvement in Korea.
This anti-American sentiment also explains the unpopular and ineffective term of Syngman Rhee, South Korea's first president (1948-1960). Rhee believed that Korean independence in the post-WWII world could most expediently be achieved through the help of the US government. However, this belief conflicted with the anti-imperial attitude of much of the Korean public, which had just been liberated from a half-century of Japanese imperialism. 39 This sector of the Korean population denounced Rhee for his dependence on America, especially when USAMGIK proved itself to be repressive and imperialistic like the Japanese. 40 Still, Rhee continued to ally himself with the US because US support gave him legitimacy as a leader, a legitimacy that he failed to garner from the Korean public. Presidents of South Korea relied on the US in this manner, well into the 1980s, and some would argue, even to today. 41
While focusing on the above characteristics of the post-WWII occupation to accuse the US of being an imperialist power from the beginning, today's anti-American activists overlook how much Korea has benefited under the US forces. In 1946, the total economic assistance to Korea stood at $5.6 million, and quickly rose to $75.7 million in the following year. 42 In 1948, the responsibility for operating these aid programs passed from the military to the Economic Cooperation Administration, as the military occupation came to a close with the establishment of the Republic of Korea. 43 The US, through economic means, played an intrinsic role in the foundation of the ROK's future as a democratic and a capitalist state and ensured that the ROK would not fall to communism as its northern counterpart had.
On the other hand, the reestablishment of a formal relationship between the US and now South Korea proved to be problematic, because the agreement to end the military occupation included an article stating that the US government would be able to purchase any piece of property in Korea. 44 This Initial Financial and Property Settlement, signed by the US and Rhee, also stated that Korea was responsible for all expenses of the US occupation forces. 45 The Settlement set the tone upon which future transactions would take place.
Help from the US came as grants and then loans, and included military assistance starting in 1950 with the Korean War. US involvement in the Korea War initiated a formal military relationship between the US and South Korea, and the two signed the Mutual Defense Treaty in 1953. Because of Korea's internal political turmoil, however, the US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) did not come into legal force until 1966. 46
During the decades immediately following WWII, the US government made a number of land purchases in downtown Seoul that signaled the reestablishment of a relationship between the two countries. On September 20, 1948, following the Initial Financial and Property Settlement, the US obtained from the Korean government two plots of land, the old Bando Hotel, and land surrounding the plot that Foote had purchased half a century before, which was used to house the Special Representative of the President to Korea, John J. Muccio (1949-1952). 47 On January 1, 1949, the White House issued a statement that announced the US recognition of the Republic of Korea. Accordingly, the Mission of the United States Special Representative in Korea was raised to Embassy rank. 48 Since the purchase of the old Bando Hotel building, the US government had used it as the Embassy's chancery. However, the building had sustained damage during the Korean War, so the Embassy exchanged the Bando building for the Mitsui Building, and paid $2,541,921 cash. 49 This building was used as the chancery until 1968, when the chancery relocated to the current site on Sejong Avenue.
US-Korea relations at the turn of the twentieth century provide the basis upon which both the American government and the South Korean opponents of the new embassy argue their cases. Similarly, the establishment of a formal American presence, overwhelmingly militaristic in appearance, in South Korea at the mid-twentieth century marks the beginning of a relationship characterized by disparity in power and status. 50 Today's anti-American movements, including the opposition against the building of the embassy at Kyunggi Girls' High School site, represent a desire to shed the old US-ROK dynamics of unbalanced power.
A Period of Nation-Building & US Influence: Post-Korean War into the 1970s
From his first election in 1948, Syngman Rhee stayed in power as the president of the newly created Republic of Korea until 1960. It was clear from the start that he lacked a popular mandate; furthermore, his presidency was marked with corruption. 51 The election of 1960, which was even more corrupt than usual, induced protests among the Korean population. 52 The Korean Ambassador to the US, Dr. You Chan Yang, informed the US government that the "demonstrations in Korea are a reflection of public dissatisfaction over the conduct of the recent elections and repressive measures unsuited to a free democracy." 53 In reaction, a statement on April 19, 1960, the United States Department of State advised that the Korean government "take necessary and effective action aimed at protecting democratic rights of speech, of assembly and of the press, as well as preserving the secrecy of the ballot and preventing unfair discrimination against political opponents of a party in power." 54 This statement shows that the US government was concerned about democracy in Korea, although in the 1970s, Korean protestors would accuse the US of being an imperialist. Rhee, in turn, announced his resignation and left Korea on April 26 of the same year on the advice of the US Embassy.55
In the same year as Rhee's resignation, an incident occurred that complicated status of the US as a landholder in Korea. In 1960, the Korean government and the United States Overseas Mission (USOM) agreed to construct the building that is currently used as the US chancery. The International Cooperation Administration, a US government agency, provided the funds for the construction of the USOM building, but the Korean government possesses the land, title, and building registrations. The original agreement of 1960 stated that USOM and its "successor agencies" were to be given "free occupancy during the existence of the Mutual Security Program in Korea." 56 Thus, when the chancery moved to the USOM building in 1968, the embassy paid no rent to the Korean government. Problem arose when the chancery's relocation, understood by both governments as "a temporary one" turned out to be otherwise. 57 In the 1980s, the Korean government pressured the US Embassy to move because it was not paying rent. The US agreed to move despite the 1960 agreement, but as we shall see, relocation would not be a simple procedure.
After Rhee's resignation, the extent to which postwar policies had undermined democracy in Korea and exacerbated conflicts within Korean politics came to a head with Park Chung Hee's coup d'etát. From 1961 until 1979, Park led Korea through his military government. His regime disbanded all existing labor unions, and implemented his economic plans that served as the foundation for Korea's rapid economic growth. 58 Those who wished to hold on to democratic ideals and thus denounced Park's strict and illegitimate military dictatorship were arrested or censored by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. 59 The United States' Nixon Doctrine of 1969 contributed to the strengthening of Park's dictatorship in Korea; for the US, the larger issue was Vietnam, and not the state of Korean democracy. 60 The doctrine, which called for Asian countries to play a bigger role in protecting themselves, planned to withdraw a US combat division, a third of the American troops stationed in Korea at the time, within one year. Taking advantage of the general atmosphere of uneasiness in Korea, Park declared martial law on October 17, 1972, banned political parties and closed all colleges and universities, the main source of the oppositional movement.
Park, a strong believer in Social Darwinism, held an intense national pride, which essentially pitted him against the US. He wanted to get past Korea's history of constant victimization to create a nation of Korean people that would be recognized globally as a superior race. Subsequently, Park spurned Korea's reliance on the American military. The withdrawal of American troops came as no surprise to him. Park, to whom modernization meant ensuring that Korea no longer should have to rely on a foreign country, reacted by putting in place a program of military self-sufficiency and heavy industrial development. 61
When once again in 1977 the American government, under President Jimmy Carter, proposed to decrease the number of American troops in Korea, Korean intellectuals objected strongly. Korean dependency on America for military security was based on decades of America's involvement in the peninsula. Over the years, South Korea had grown to take America's military presence for granted, and also to rely, both militarily and psychologically, on the presence of American troops for security. Consequently, Carter's proposal shocked many South Koreans, and in response, various scholars attempted to persuade America to revoke the military withdrawal policy by showing their need for American presence and their importance to America in Cold War geopolitics. It is interesting to note that Korean intellectuals during this time period did not accuse the US of being imperialist, but was ready to view Carter's proposal as a betrayal.
Even after years of continued stalemate between North and South Korea, South Koreans viewed the situation of the peninsula as being "precarious" and of an "explosive nature." 62 They believed that without American military backing, North Korea would successfully invade South Korea. Many South Koreans perceived the threat as tangible; the underground tunnels that the North Korean army had built served as concrete examples of this threat. Accordingly, most South Korean scholars and politicians viewed the military withdrawal as America's failure to comprehend the gravity of the situation, and understood the plan as the "beginning [of] an abandonment." 63 They believed that if America were to continue with her policy of withdrawal, it would cause a sense of defeatism and a collapse of morale among the South Koreans, which would in turn diminish South Korean ability to resist a North Korean invasion.
Amidst the North Korean threat as well as domestic opposition, Park was able to hold onto his power for near two decades. In 1963, when he put forth a popular referendum to decide whether his military junta should stay in power for four more years, he met with strong opposition from both the South Korean public. 64 In April of 1975, Park issued an emergency decree against student demonstrations against his revision of Korea's Constitution. Troops immediately seized Korea University campus, and Seoul, Yonsei, and Sogang Universities had to cancel classes because of violent collision between the students and police. 65 In the following month, even American missionaries in Korea who stayed out of politics demonstrated against the Korean government's hanging of eight political dissidents. The Department of State responded only passively: "We deeply regret the drastic action of the Korean government in carrying out the executions." 66 This type of passive action, or inaction, by the US was reminiscent of the US deserting Korea at the turn of the twentieth century, and would also sow the seeds of anti-American sentiments that would explode in the 1980s.
Anti-American sentiments took root during the 1970s as the students and other demonstrators looked to the US for support in their fight for democracy and found that support lacking. US cultural centers became a target for these protesters because they believed that the US government supported Park. 67 Whether American noninvolvement signified respect for Korean sovereignty, or tolerance of, and by default support for Park's dictatorship, is open to interpretation. 68 The protestors opted for the latter, and attacked buildings owned by the US government, the physical symbols of the unjust US control over Korea. The concept of interpreting US government buildings as symbols of power and attacking them would be the driving force in today's opposition against the US Embassy's relocation.
Despite the US interest in Korea's democracy, as shown in 1960, and despite protestors' accusations, the US government, with the exception of few cases, did not interfere in Korea's internal affairs. 69 In fact, the primary concern for US officials, both in Korea and in the States, was the North Korean threat, not troubles within Korean politics. 70 Anti-American sentiments during this period, then, derived from two sources: Park's government, which viewed democracy as dangerous, and saw the military as the pure and unselfish cleanser of society 71 ; and those protesting against Park's government, because they believed that the US should play a more active role in Korea's democracy.
The difference between the nature of anti-American sentiments during Park's regime and today's anti-American sentiments, which condemn the US for too much interference, reflects both the important role the US has played throughout Korea's entrance into modernity and how Korea's democracy has matured. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Koreans saw the US as a big brother who showed them the way of democracy and capitalism, so they looked to the US for guidance and assistance in the process of democratization. However, when Koreans realized that the US was not actively pressing for the Korean government to democratize, they once again felt betrayed by the US, and consequently turned their activism against the US as well.
Politics in the 1980s and the Sale of Kyunggi Site
Korea underwent many important transitions in 1980s. First, 1980 began a new political period, simply because Park, who had ruled the country in a strict dictatorial style, had been assassinated in 1979. Although the new president, Chun Doo Hwan (1981-1987), was also a military dictator, he would prove to differ greatly from Park. Second, the economic plans under Park, which had led to material prosperity, gave rise to the middle class beginning in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, the middle class continued to increase numerically, and grew critical of the dictatorial regimes they served. 72 In this environment, Korea underwent a democratic consolidation, and political activism, specifically student activism and anti- American protests, emerged more sharply than even before.
The Sale of Kyunggi Girls' High School Site
As a consequence of the tremendous economic growth under Park, USAID brought its mission to a halt in September of 1980. The records of the Department of State note that "almost immediately, the US [government] came under strong and sustained pressure to vacate previous AID properties," which included the chancery building. 73 The records also state that these pressures came through informal channels, including frequent negative publicity over occupancy of the chancery. The Korean government urged the relocation, in part because the US Embassy was not, and has not been, paying rent for the building on Sejong Avenue. 74 The US government agreed "to the need to move its chancery." 75 In fact, the US had been wanting to relocate the chancery since 1978, when Ambassador Richard L. Sneider (1974-1978) requested its relocation to Compound II, a plot of land near the current chancery that continues to be used for the housing of embassy workers. The Korean government rejected the idea because of zoning restrictions. 76
After numerous disagreements and misunderstandings, the governments of the two countries agreed on the Kyunggi Girl's High School site in 1984. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggested five sites, each of which the US Embassy found unsuitable. The Embassy then asked if the new chancery could be built at the Kyunggi Girls' School, which bordered Compound I, the housing compound adjoining the Ambassador's Residence. The Ministry informed the Embassy that the high school site was unavailable. Yet, the Embassy found out through a local real estate agent that the site was available because the Ministry of Education was planning to relocate the school to another part of Seoul. 77 At last, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved the Kyunggi site on January 31, 1984. The difficulties encountered in the mere agreeing on a site indicate how complicated and prolonged the rest of the relocation process would be.
The chronology of events shows that it was the US that proposed the site, not the Korean Government. Also, in its letter to the US Embassy on January 13, 1984, which addresses the agreement made in the previous year by the US and the Korean government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs describes the plan to purchase the Kyunggi site as the "US plan." 78 However, the US Embassy claims that the purchase was made "at the Korean Government's suggestion," and the embassy workers with whom I have spoken share this belief. 79 In fact, that the Korean government suggested this site comprises one of the major factors of the US Embassy's defense of its relocation to the Kyunggi site. Also, none of the opposition groups have objected to this claim, or offered any evidence that contradicts it. Finally, the correspondence between the US and ROK governments in the 1980s shows that they both supported the site as a suitable one.
On October 21, 1983, the Korean government agreed to a plan by the US Embassy to purchase the Kyunggi Girls' High School site for the construction of a chancery building. 80 This construction would persist "with due consideration to limitations stipulated in relevant [Korean] laws and regulations." 81 Furthermore, in the 1984 agreement that approved the relocation of the US chancery to the "property owned by the Republic of Korea at 1-8, Jung-dong, Seodamoon-ku, Seoul," the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs conditioned that:
administrative details related to property acquisition, construction, and relocation are to be agreed upon in consultation with authorities concerned, including the Seoul Metropolitan Government. 82
Thus, from the beginning, three entities were involved: the US Embassy, the Korean government (through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and the City of Seoul.
By 1986, various sales and exchanges between the US Embassy and the City of Seoul had taken place (see Appendix 1). 83 However, these exchanges were not without conditions, including a height limitation of fifteen stories. 84 The agreement also confirmed that the State Department would confer with appropriate authorities from the City of Seoul regarding architectural and engineering design details, in order to ensure that the new chancery "comply with Seoul Building Codes while fulfilling the US Government's facilities and security requirements with the exception of building height." 85
The details of the agreement and its preconditions demonstrate that the purchasing of the Kyunggi site was not an example of US dominance over Korea, but rather was a negotiation between two entities of equal standing. The final agreement in the sale of the Kyunggi site resulted from a process that included a dialogue and compromises from both countries. In fact, the US government did not force the Korean government to accept Compound II as the new chancery site, but instead worked with the Korean government to find an appropriate option. The account of financial transactions also shows that the US did not bully its way into receiving free land. Thus, the agreement contradicts the interpretation that on-going attempts by the US embassy to move into the new site have been power-driven. The ways in which various opposition groups describe the US move to the new site will be addressed in detail in a later part of the essay.
Further transactions continued throughout the late 1980s into 1990. In 1987, the mayor of Seoul stated that the City was "making an effort to relocate the present Kyunggi Girls High School in the early part of 1988," making the site empty for the US to begin its construction. 86 At this time, the Seoul government seemed eager to help the US Embassy with its relocation plan. The US Embassy and the City of Seoul agreed to conduct the property exchange in April of 1987, but the exchanges were delayed until 1990, when the Embassy exchanged the Mitsui building and a part of Compound II, in addition to approximately $5.7 million, for the Kyunggi site. 87 Then, after correspondence between the US Embassy and the Department of State regarding the possibility of destroying the Kyunggi High School building, the demolition was carried out on September 13, 1993. 88 The site was now clear for the construction of the new embassy to take place, but the construction would be delayed indefinitely, first because of lack of funding, and then because of opposition by the Korean government and various civil groups.
Growth of Political Activism, US Involvement, & Anti-American Sentiments
Ironically, it was during this period of negotiations and sales that anti-American sentiments began to emerge strongly in South Korea. A study of the political environment in the 1980s will provide an insight into whom the Korean government represented at the time and how that relates to the strength of opposition against the embassy's relocation today. Upon Park's assassination in 1979, Chun took over the Korean government in a military coup, just as Park before him had done. 89 His military regime, starting with the Kwangju Uprising in 1980, began a period of transition for Korean democracy in which Korean citizens who felt that their government opposed their rights challenged the dictatorial nature of Chun's rule.
In May of 1980, citizens of Kwangju rose in protest against the crowning of the new military dictator. 90 Workers and citizens joined student demonstrations against the Chun government when they observed the brutality through which the paratroopers had attempted to disperse the demonstrators. On May 21, an estimated 100,000 protestors gathered at the provincial government building. After taking over the building, the protestors proclaimed Kwangju to be a liberated city outside Chun's military dictatorship. 91 Chun reacted on May 27 by sending in tanks and armored carriers, along with American troops and Korean troops under American control. The ensuing confrontation resulted in more than two hundred fatalities and thousands wounded or arrested. 92
To many Koreans, the Kwangju Massacre exemplified not only the cruelty of the Chun regime, but also the US support of this blatantly undemocratic regime. Kwangju citizens at the time of the massacre mistakenly thought that Americans had arrived to defend democracy and to stop the tyranny of Chun. 93 Media portrayals and Chun's propaganda further strengthened this misconception. Not for the first time, Koreans found their expectations of the US disappointed. True, the Carter administration at the time was more interested in preserving stability in South Korea than the state of its democracy. In fact, the Combined Forces Commander, General John A. Wickham, was reported to have stated that the Koreans were not ready for democracy and that democracy was not ready for Korea. Offended dissidents interpreted his statement as expressing that "Koreans [were] not good enough to be ranked with Americans." 94 Especially because of the Iranian revolution and the taking of American hostages there in 1979, the US "did not oppose ROK contingency plans to maintain law and order," even over the transplanting of democracy. 95
However, Wickham is wrongly blamed for the massacre. It is a little known fact that at the time of the riots, Wickham was in the US, in the process of resigning, and did not approve the use of an American division of troops for the use of riot control in Kwangju. 96 This was not reported to the Korean public; if it had, anti-American sentiments in Korea may have taken a different route. Even today, simple search on the Internet will show that the vast majority of Koreans continue to blame Wickham for the massacre, a case that reflects how the history of US-ROK relations is politicized.
Koreans, then and now, also faulted the US Ambassador at the time, William H. Gleysteen (1978-1981), for the brutal massacre. An unnamed "leading pro- American academic" told The New York Times that the Embassy under Gleysteen was "not well-informed." 97 Whether this was the case, Chun contributed to Gleysteen's poor reputation by failing to relay to the Korean people Gleysteen's concern for the Korean people's democratic rights, concerns he had expressed in his personal correspondences with Chun. 98 Furthermore, the Korean media, which was under government surveillance, failed to carry Gleysteen's statements that denied his involvement in the massacre. 99 Wickham later argued that the US officials in Korea were "little more than hapless bystanders as Chun shrewdly maneuvered toward total power." 100
The significance of the Kwangju Massacre, for our purposes, is that it initiated the two decades of anti-American sentiments that followed. Student activism, which had previously focused solely on fighting the dictatorships, started to divert its energy towards the US, which they believed supported the military regimes. In December of 1980, the USIS Office was attacked by an arson. Then in March of 1982, the US Cultural Center in Pusan exploded. Radical rhetoric - "Yankee Go Home" and "The United States Must Not Make This Land Its Colony Any Longer" - accompanied these physical attacks on American presence. 101
Student activists accused the US of imperialism, equating US with Korea's nemesis, Japan. They also blamed the US for the continued division of the Korean peninsula, and demanded the withdrawal of US troops. 102 The unification movement that developed in the late 1980s viewed the US as a barrier to Korean unification, and nationalistic literature and arts of the decade no longer portrayed the US as an ally. 103 Given that prior to the 1980s, the South Korean government, Korean dissidents, and nearly the whole Korean population viewed the US as the "protector" and "big brother," this change in attitude signaled a momentous implication for the future. 104 Student activism gained momentum until the end of the decade.
Economic Factors in the Rise of Anti-American Sentiments
Another factor to consider in understanding the rise of anti-American sentiments in the 1980s is that by the beginning of this decade, the economic dependency that had characterized previous US-ROK relations had somewhat disappeared. By the late 1980s, economic prosperity and growing military efficiency led Korea to seek more power in its relationship with the US. 105 Growing trade frictions between the two countries, which followed the US effort to open the Korean market, also led to anti-American sentiments. 106 By 1985, an intellectual circle had emerged that disapproved of the power disparity in US-ROK relations, but ironically sought to continue in an unbalanced trading partnership to the detriment of the US. 107
It was difficult to deny the crucial role the US had played in the success of Korean economy. Many scholars recognized that the US, through its economic aid, "laid the basic foundation of Korea's industries," and that "a large share of the credit for Korea's transformation from an agricultural society to an industrial nation belong[ed] to the United States." 108 Korea's economic ties with the US had been essential to the former, in terms of capital flow and trade. However, US trade deficits had grown enough that the US now wanted to change the established pattern of US-ROK trade. From the Korean viewpoint, the US' "strenuous efforts… to correct the unfavorable trade balance" was offensive. 109 As the big brother, the US should act out of generosity toward Korea, even if it meant taking a small hit in order for the South Korean economy to grow.
In particular, Korean scholars questioned the true objective of the "protective" barriers that the US set up against Korean products. 110 Barriers such as the voluntary export restraints and orderly marketing agreements, "which in essence are a form of bilateral quota system," kept approximately 40% of Korea's total export to the US under trade barriers. 111 Scholars also protested the upper hand the US had in settling trade disputes. Of the thirteen "significant" trade conflicts that occurred during the period between 1960 and 1981, all of which involved Korean access to the US market, ten were solved with an outcome more favorable to the US initial position, three with an intermediate outcome, and none with an outcome more favorable to Korea's initial position. 112 Whether the US received favorable outcomes because America had a trade deficit to begin with, or because it held the upper hand as the more powerful nation, this understanding of US-ROK economic relations pervaded scholarly circles and reflected not only the growth and the contradictions of anti-American sentiments in the 1980s, but also the beginning of changes within US-ROK relations.
The US Reaction
The US reacted to growing anti-American sentiments by holding onto its official position that the US wanted to further the democratization and liberalization of Korea, and did not support a specific person or a party. 113 However, with Cold War ideologies in full effect, US government officials feared the destabilizing effect that public demonstrations against military regimes could have, even if they were pro-democracy demonstrations. Having seen how protests turned into a revolution in Iran, the US believed that "another failure would have been disastrous." 114 Economically, the US as a sovereign nation-state had its own interests to look after, and could not continue allowing South Korea to benefit as it had done in the past, now that South Korea had achieved a level of economic independence. US policy towards Korea during this time can be depicted as one of self-interest, which Koreans were, and are, quick to interpret as betrayal.
It seems odd, then, that in this period of turmoil, the US Embassy was able to purchase a new chancery site from the government. Current opposition to the new embassy site understands the sale as a pathetic mistake on the part of the Korean and Seoul governments. Knowing that the military regimes did not reflect the will of the people, it is possible that against the general population's will, the governments agreed to sell the US Embassy. However, the lack of records of protest against the new site in the 1980s suggests another explanation: civil organizations at the time were concerned with fighting the military dictatorship and achieving of democracy. Only when the US failed to support pro-democracy movements did the students and other citizens turn against the US and find the sale of the embassy site as worthy of protest.
It is also likely that the sale of the new site was a very low-profile transaction, even to the Americans involved. 115 Economic and military issues continued to characterize the dealings between the governments of the US the ROK. As Ambassador Gleysteen remarked, at the top of the agenda during his term was the threat of North Korea, which might see any political instability as an opportunity for an invasion. 116 The newly awakened activist students and the middle class would soon change the political landscape of South Korea, and embroil the US embassy in this changing context.
Dealings Between the US and a Democratic ROK in the 1990s
The presidential election of 1987 saw the end of imposed military rule, although the president elected was a close friend of Chun and also of military background. In Kim Young Sam (1993-1997), Koreans saw their first leader chosen by popular vote. Kim's reform politics reintroduced to Koreans local and provincial elections, amended laws on political funds and public ethics to check corruption, and deepened civil liberties. 117 The civil activism of the 1980s that had led to the consolidation of Korea's democracy had also begun to change US-ROK relations.
The US Ambassador to Korea, Donald P. Gregg (1989-1993), best expressed the new US-ROK relations of the 1990s. By 1989, Gregg remarked that the relationship has evolved "from that of patron to client" to a "relationship between partners - equal partners." 118 He further stated that the development in the relationship was "healthy." 119 Over a year later, Gregg insisted that "Korea and the United States can continue to move along the transitional path from a military alliance to an economic and political partnership." 120 Indeed, under this new partnership, the Korean government asserted its nationhood in its interactions with the US.
As if to mark Korea's new identity as a rising power, President Roh Tae Woo (1987-1992) demanded early in his term the return of Youngsan Army Base, the most blatant symbol of US presence in South Korea, or South Korea's military dependence on the US. In the middle of Seoul, ten million plus citizens, the 2.8 million square meters remain an undeveloped patch of land. The base is also known as "the No. 1 US Colony," "the United States in Korea," or "the 51st American State." 121 In May of 1989, the Korean government and the US government agreed that the base would be relocated out of Seoul by the mid- 1990s and that Korea would assume the cost of the move. 122 This agreement between the United States Forces in Korea (USFK) and the Korean government put a temporary halt on the US Embassy's plans to build a new chancery.
The controversy over the base parallels the controversy over the chancery because both represent the Korean government's attempts to get their land back. Through the free-leasehold agreement in the 1948 treaty between the US and Korea, USFK had kept and occupied the land from which operated. When USFK agreed to return its Yongsan property, the Korean government initiated a campaign for the return of all free-leasehold properties, including the South Post Housing, the General Services Office Compound. 123 Free-leasehold properties occupied pursuant to AID agreements and diplomatic notes also included the Embassy Club, four residential apartment buildings across from the Embassy Club, and the chancery. 124 After "extensive negotiations," the agreement to return Yongsan fell apart, which, according to the Department of State, "encouraged [the ROK Government] to renew its negative publicity campaign regarding the free leasehold occupancy of the chancery." 125
Despite these campaigns, the relocation efforts continued in the 1990s, even if at a very gradual pace. Various financial transactions for property acquisition occurred between the US Embassy and the Department of State in the early 1990s, in spite of obstacles. Firstly, and more important, the Department of State failed to get the US Congress to appropriate money for the new chancery. Secondly, Korea was hit by the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. On August 1, 1997, the US, "with the cooperation of the Korean Government," sold Compound II to Samsung Corporation for $150,000,000. 126 The profit from this sale was to be used for the construction of the new chancery. However, because of the crisis, Samsung in February of 1998 announced that it could not make the installment payment for Compound II. 127 Samsung did resume the installments two years later.
Of importance is that the US Embassy claim that the Korean Government assisted in the sale of Compound II to Samsung, a move that indicates that the Korean government, in 1997, encouraged the chancery's relocation. As mentioned before, the Korean government at this time was concerned primarily with getting back all the land that the US was occupying at no cost. In 1997, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote, "concerning the relocation of the chancery, the Ministry would like to remind the Embassy of the latter's commitment that it shall exert its best effort in all good faith to complete the construction of its new chancery," while "reaffirm[ing] the unswerving position of the Korean government that the free leaseholds so far unduly enjoyed by the US Government have no legal ground and the properties concerned should be either returned or turned into paid rent as soon as possible." 128
It was shortsighted of the Korean government to assist the US Embassy in its relocation efforts. The Korean government, in its desire to erase the physical reminders of Korean inferiority to the US, urged the US Embassy to move out of what had been the old USAID building into a new building that the US government would pay for. It pushed for the relocation to the first site that both governments agreed upon. In doing so, the Korean government failed to study whether the relocation to the Kyunggi site would be disrespectful to Korean history, as some branches of the government argue today. It is ironic that many members of the Korean government today oppose the relocation for the same reason the move was promoted in the 1980s and the 1990s: to assert Korea's sovereignty. Once again, the US had become the backdrop against which Korea endeavored to find her nationhood.
Peoples' Movement Against US Imperialism in the 2000s
The "Citizens' Coalition Against the Construction of the US Embassy and Housing on Duksoo Palace Site" (henceforth referred to as the Coalition) serves as the center of activism and opposition to the new building site. As the name of the group indicates, its main ground for opposition is that the Kyunggi Girls' High School site stands on site of the Duksoo Palace, part of which the Japanese colonial powers destroyed in the early 20th century. The Coalition consists of representatives of various organizations, including the Korean Architectural Association, the Korea Youth Corps, the National Trust Movement, and approximately thirty more organizations.
The Coalition motto, "Let's Protect Our Cultural Artifacts and National Pride," reflects that it views the construction of the chancery at the new site as a national insult. 129 The Coalition lists five reasons for opposition, which revolve around the belief that US is an imperialist power that treads on Korea's sovereignty. The following is the author's translation and summary of their five reasons.
First, we cannot allow the trampling of cultural artifacts for the construction of a diplomatic space. The site is not just any site, but where King Kojong carried out ancestor worship mere ninety years ago. The construction of US Chancery will make impossible the rebuilding of the old palace. Second, we need to uproot a diplomacy based on power, a diplomacy that has been humiliating for the Koreans. The US was so impudent that it asked to be exempt from the construction rules of Korea. If Korea succumbs, requests from other foreign powers asking for special exceptions will pour in. Third, we need to restore the cultural continuum that was cut by Japanese colonialism. The Japanese, who destroyed much of the original palace buildings, erected the Kyung Sung First Japanese Girls' High School, which later made way for Kyunggi High. We cannot allow the US to come in where the Japanese had ruled. Our humiliating past cannot be repeated. Fourth, we deserve respect for our history and our culture. For an upright and honest relationship between the US and Korea, the US will need to make the right decision, one that respects Korea's cultural sovereignty. Lastly, we must preserve the cultural artifacts that remind us of Japanese Imperialism, as painful as it is, so that imperialism will not repeat itself. 130
The Coalition demands that the US Embassy find a new site. It also demands that the Seoul and the national government halt the US Embassy's plans for construction, and protect all cultural artifacts. Most of the Coalition's activism has been through their website, http://palace.119.org. The number 119 is the equivalent for America's 911, for an emergency. Indeed, the matter of the new US Embassy is an emergency to these activists who see the relocation as an infringement on Korea's national pride. The US Embassy built on Duksoo site "will not only injure our culture and our people's spirit, but abandon our national pride," they claim. 131 So strong are the sentiments that one protestor even reacted to the plans for relocation with a call to move the Duksoo Palace to the White House. 132
The debate reflects larger political divisions in Korea and provides an opportunity for activists to criticize the government of Seoul and the ROK. Members of the Coalition do fault both governments for the sale of the land in the first place. They criticize the City of Seoul for ignoring the provisions for cultural preservation when it sold the land to the US. 133 One member declared, "our government is the bigger problem. Please stop eating our own flesh." 134 An editorial in The Korea Herald also blamed "the government - both at central and locals levels … for the virtual vandalism that is underway to destroy the cultural characteristics of the capital city." 135 In fact, even members of the National Assembly are joining the opposition movement to stop the relocation from taking place, including members of the Grand National Party (GNP) and the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP). 136 National Assemblyman Won You-chul of the MDP called on the US Embassy and the Seoul mayor to halt the plans to build the new chancery at the palace site. 137
The issue became so pressing that it became an issue in the 2002 Seoul mayoral election. The candidate of the MDP, Kim Min-seok, strongly opposed the government's new decision to allow the US embassy to build on the new site. "For the sake of national pride," he insisted, Korea should not let the US build its chancery there, and he urged the Seoul government to "hand over the matter to the next mayor." 138 Unfortunately for Kim, the next mayor proved to be Lee Myung-bak of the conservative GNP. Still, Lee, like Kim, also opposed "the construction of an eight-story apartment next to [Korea's] national treasure," and expressed his plans to preserve Korea's historical artifacts, especially Duksoo Palace - at least prior to his election. 139
Lee's views on the new embassy site changed in the months following his inauguration, and the members of the Coalition quickly blamed Lee's change of heart on US influence. He stated in a press conference that the debate over the new site should not be based solely upon anti-American sentiments, and that the issue was between the US and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not the City of Seoul. 140 Coalition members alleged that the US Embassy officials told Lee where he should stand on the issue during their meeting on July 3, 2002. 141 In the call for a demonstration against the mayor, Coalition members taunted that Lee's argument was so similar to the US Embassy's argument that they could not tell whether Lee was the mayor of Seoul or Washington, DC. 142
That the Coalition members, journalists, and governmental officials stand against their own governments reflects the extent to which Korean democracy has grown in the last two decades. Whereas in the 1980s, activism against the established powers of the Korean and the US governments was a conflict between a section of the Korean population and the governments, now the conflict has evolved into an issue for which members of the National Assembly can join the civil activists in criticizing the government. The list of organizations that have joined the Coalition attests to the diversity of its membership, which currently boasts 26,074 "netizen" members since its website was created in May of 2002. 143 All these factors suggest that maybe the Coalition is, as it claims to be, representative of how the Korean people feel about the issue of US Embassy's relocation, as well as the US presence in Korea in general.
Curiously enough, the Coalition's leaders maintain that their opposition is not based solely on anti-American sentiments. In a conference between Embassy officials and representatives of the Coalition on July 26, 2002, the Coalition representatives stated that they do not oppose having the US Embassy in the middle of Seoul. Rather, they oppose the chancery being built on a former palace site. 144 Still, it is hard to ignore the strong overtones of anti-American sentiments, especially on the Coalition's on-line message boards that carry strong messages of opposition, with titles such as "Crazy Nation, the US" 145 and "Stinky Yankee Sons of Bitches." 146 The rhetoric of the protestors is so emotional and nationalistic that it even links the US with the Imperialist Japanese. 147
The current high level of anti-American sentiments can be traced to specific events in the recent past. The 2002 Winter Olympics, for example, when the US Short- track skater Apollo Anton Ono defeated the South Korean skater Kim Dong-sung, who was disqualified, Korean citizens temporarily shut down the official website of the International Olympic Committee in order to protest what they believed to be an American conspiracy to let Ono receive the gold medal. 148 This type of protest continued with the acquittal of soldiers who were involved in the deaths of two girls in June of 2002. In reaction to such incidents, Koreans engaged in a boycott of American goods, including American fastfoods. 149 McDonald's has suffered a 15% decrease in their sales since the skating incident. Other American companies, such as T.G.I. Friday's, Pizza Hut, Coca-Cola, and Daimler-Chrysler of Korea, whether owned and operated by Koreans, have reported that rising anti-American sentiments have affected their sales and the consumers' views of their products. 150
Regardless of how large of a role anti-American sentiments play in the opposition to the new chancery, the US needs to recognize that the number of Koreans who disapprove might be larger than they had expected and might have some legitimate grievances. Aside from the Coalition, well-respected politicians, newspapers, and a growing number of young citizens, who express their political views as netizens, oppose the site of the new chancery. As one representative of the Coalition correctly observes:
The plans for the construction of the chancery and the apartment buildings at the ancient Duksoo Palace site reflect the unequal and distorted nature of US-ROK relations. We need to move away from the past to today, where the US and Korea need to be on equal footing. This problem of the new Embassy site carries the US-ROK relations of yesterday into today. How this problem gets solved will decide the US-ROK relations of tomorrow. 151
Indeed, the willingness of the US and the ROK governments to compromise will not only represent the significance of the US-ROK of the past, but also set the tone of their diplomacy in this post-Cold War era.
US Claims to the Kyunggi Girls' High School Site
The US claims to the new site go back to the first days of US-Korea relations in the late nineteenth century. The US, instead of focusing on the tumultuous times of the US-Korea relations like the Korean protestors, recalls all the instances in which the US helped Korea to stand where it does today. The embassy attempts to persuade Koreans that the US deserves to make its new home at the Kyunggi site by focusing on the reasons the US established itself in Korea originally, then in the mid-twentieth century as the liberator and later as a bringer of democracy and economic success.
First, the US Embassy, aware of rising anti-American sentiments, is careful to emphasize its respects Korea. It stresses that the US is "a friend and ally of Korea," and has the "deepest respect for the Korean people, Korean culture, and Korean law." 152 Second, the US emphasizes the longevity and the significance of its relationship with Korea. US embassy spokespeople state that the US seeks to construct a new chancery that "reflects the importance of the US-Korea relationship in this 120th anniversary year," and to move from the current chancery that embodies the history of Korean dependency on the US. In fact, the US argues that the current Duksoo Palace was built after Foote made his land purchase in 1883. King Kojong, according to the US Embassy, moved to the palace in 1897. 153 Most importantly, the US points out that it came to Korea at the request of King Kojong. Korean welcomed US at the time because it wanted a foreign force that would counter the Japanese and Chinese influence on the peninsula. 154
Second, the Embassy fully intends to follow Korean construction laws. The Embassy states that the residence apartment and the chancery have been "designed in strict accordance with relevant local restrictions and bilateral agreements." 155 However, the US, along with other countries, has "discovered that there are no laws or regulations that specifically cover the construction of Embassy chancery and diplomatic residence facilities." 156 Thus, the US acknowledges that there might be some exceptions to the Korean construction laws as it builds its chancery. It notes that it is not unusual for a country to ask for exceptions when constructing large- scale buildings like an embassy. For instance, the US has asked the German government to close off a street in Berlin to make room for the new chancery there. 157 Even in Seoul, the US is not the only country asking for exceptions to the rule. The Russian Embassy, which was built in 2001, negotiated with the Seoul government over the number of parking spaces required. 158
The US also plans to work with appropriate Korean officials and agencies, and to document and preserve any historical and cultural artifacts that may be found during the construction. The US Department of State notes that "one of the significant obstacles to obtaining the Korean Government's approval of … staff apartment and new chancery project is the required archeological study of the site." 159 In this regard, the US Department of State has attempted to work with the Korean government in identifying institutions to conduct archeological surveys. Unfortunately for the US, the two that were recommended by the Korean government refused to work with the US Embassy, but despite these rejections, the US Embassy has continued to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as other government agencies, in an attempt to find appropriate firms. 160
The Embassy also states that the US government's policy is to "document and preserve any historically significant cultural property found on our property during the construction of our facilities overseas." 161 The people who oppose the embassy building say it is an act of disrespect to Korean culture; Michael Graves, the architect for the new chancery, disagrees. Graves has told the press that he has much experience working in "places such as Italy’s Rome and Netherlands, places similar to Seoul in that they are filled with traditions." 162 He further explained, "Analyzing a city’s connection to its past is a part of designing and constructing a building," and that it would "be almost impossible to see the proposed U.S. Embassy apartments from the stone steps of Duksoo Palace." 163 In the same press conference, Graves referred to the original US embassy buildings of 1883, how they embraced traditional Korean architecture. This respect for Korean traditions would be carried out in the constructing of the new building. Ironically for the Koreans, the American Ambassador's Residence, the Habib House, is the only building in the area that is built in the Korean traditional style.
The following statement by the US Embassy sums up its argument well:
Both the Embassy chancery and the residence will also be constructed to blend in well with the neighborhood's atmosphere and aesthetic, including a large amount of green space. We want them to be beautiful, functional, safe, and a credit to a neighborhood in which we have lived for 119 years. 164
The US government cannot understand the intensity of opposition to the new building, especially the accusations that the US is being disrespectful to Korean culture and history. The lack of understanding suggests ongoing gaps and misunderstandings that have existed throughout US-ROK relations. To the US, the site under controversy is not only a place of Korean history, but also US history. The confusion gets compounded when the US plans seem to respect Korean laws and the surrounding environment much more than other embassy buildings or Korean-owned business buildings.
Are there Remedies?
Both sides of the controversy recognize the significance of where the new chancery will be built. Yet, there seems to be no easy solution for the problem. For those who oppose the new Embassy to be built on the new site, it seems to be all or nothing; if the US does not find a new site, it has completely undermined Korean sovereignty. The US claims that there are no other suitable sites in downtown Seoul, and relocating the Embassy out of downtown Seoul would be disrespectful toward the US. That diplomatic establishments all over the world are placed in the heart of the nation's capital reflects the important role these buildings play in symbolizing mutual respect. 165
An appropriate solution to the controversy involves mutual understanding and respect. The governments of Korea and Seoul, as well as the citizens, understanding how densely populated Seoul is, need to recognize that there are no other feasible sites for the US Embassy. They should not interpret the move as an act of imperialism, but a result of compromises between the government of the US and Korea. The US, on the other hand, could diffuse the controversy by indicating respect for Korea in other concrete ways, by paying more attention to the growing anti-American sentiments and responding accordingly, whether revising the SOFA, or expanding various exchange programs already carried out by the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy.
Lastly, the controversy over the US Embassy site and the rise of anti-American sentiments should be understood in the context of Korea's newly-achieved status as a modern nation. Throughout the history of US-ROK relations, Korea has clashed with the US in each step along the path towards modernization and sovereignty, clashes that resulted not from ill feelings, but from circumstances. And throughout history, Korea has harbored ambivalence toward the US. More than fifty years after the establishment of the ROK, a sector of the Korean population still faults the US for division of the peninsula, at the same time they worry about the withdrawal of US soldiers. 166 This ambivalence continues to shape Korea's attitude toward America. Some radicals call for the withdrawal of US troops entirely, but if the US indeed gave up her military commitment to Korea, Korea will once again feel betrayed. The ideal scenario for Koreans would be for America to play an invisible role in Korea, to have an inconspicuous but convenient embassy building where the US would pass out Visas, and conduct trade negotiations. 167
However, for Korea to gain the benefits of having a relationship with the US, it has to learn to give and to compromise. As Korea demands an equal relationship with the US, it needs to understand that equal footings require equal levels of sacrifice. This time around, Korea should reach the next step of rising as a global power, not by slighting the US, but by accepting the American historical presence in Korea and not interpreting the continued US presence as a sign of imperialism. In order to achieve a diplomacy reflective of Korea's new status as a modern country, Korea needs to accommodate the US Embassy with respect as a generous host would. The first step would be to let go of its sense of inferiority.