What Did Obama Really Say to S. Korean President?


My heart sank a little when I read the headline of this Reuters story:

Obama and S. Korea’s Lee Vow to Fight Protectionism

But upon reading the article, I could find no direct quote of anything said by Obama to Lee, Korea’s president, in this reported phone conversation.  Then I realized that the story, written by an Asian correspondent, emanated from Seoul and only reports on Lee’s spokesman’s “take” on the conversation, obviously intended for consumption by his S. Korean constituents. 

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed on Tuesday to fight against trade protectionism, as legislatures in both countries prepare to battle over a bilateral free trade deal.

South Korea and the United States reached the trade deal in 2007, which studies said is expected to boost their $78 billion annual trade by as much as $20 billion.

The bill has not been approved by legislatures in either country but is expected to come up for a vote in the coming weeks in South Korea.

Obama was quoted as telling Lee that trading states should fight the temptation to revert to protectionism, in the two leaders’ first telephone conversation since Obama took office, Lee’s spokesman said.

“A rise in protectionism can only delay the recovery of the global economy,” Lee was quoted as saying.

That’s a direct quote of Lee, but notice that there’s no direct quote of anything from Obama expressing agreement.  The only quote in the article attributed to an American source, Secretary of State Clinton, stands in stark contrast to Lee’s spokesman’s quotes:

Obama is opposed to the bilateral trade deal in its current form because it gives South Korean carmakers “untrammelled access to the U.S. market,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

I like the Reuters web site because its reporting seems to be more broad-based than what you get with a lot of the American media, but articles like this demonstrate that you have to take some of it with a grain of salt and keep in mind the writer and the intended audience.

It’s going to be fascinating to watch the economic collapse play out in Korea, one of the most heavily export-dependent economies on earth and a nation whose people are prone to violent demonstrations – no wonder in a country fifteen times as densely populated as the U.S.  It’s being reported that their exports have declined by a third in recent months, and 70% of Korea’s work force is employed in manuacturing for export.  That means that their unemployment has suddenly soared to at least 20%. 

We could be witnessing the early stages of the disintegration of the S. Korean society.  Just imagine their reaction when the U.S. not only rejects this new trade deal, but then goes further and imposes tariffs on their exports!  But, ultimately, S. Korea has zero power to do anything about our trade policy.  Any bluster and protest can be instantly thwarted by one simple statement from the U.S.:  “Maybe it’s time to rethink our troop deployments in S. Korea.”


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