The Ugly Academic: MSU in South Korea

(from The Lansing Star, 4/29 - 5/12/76)

Two issues ago, the STAR featured an article on MSU's projects in Brazil and Iran, two of the most totalitarian countries on the planet. South Korea easily rivals them. Fear of speaking out for basic human rights is daily fare in Korea. MSU is again a complicit agent in the oppression of the Korean people as it blindly follows U.S. foreign policy. And the question of human rights is closely tied with the economic situation, in which MSU is closely involved.

"South Korea is widely heralded," wrote Richard Falk, professor of international law at Princeton University in the April 25, 1976 New York Times, "as an 'economic miracle' second only to Brazil." Falk continues, "South Korea's economic attractiveness [to foreign investments] is peculiarly dependent up outrageously low wages, large-scale corruption in the bureaucracy, staggering foreign economic debts and -- concomitantly -- progressively harsher governmental repression."

A 1974 Asian Studies Institute pamphlet quoted a Chase Manhattan Bank study which revealed Korean cash wages as among the lowest anywhere with manufacturing workers averaging 77 cents a day. A recent report by John Saar of the Washington Post Foreign Service examines the life of a Korean worker, a Ms. Kim, 25, who earns 22 cents an hour, twelve hours a day, seven days a week wrapping candy. The country's nine percent annual growth rate has been accomplished, writes Saar, "by the wholesale exploitation of two million workers."

Saar quotes an unnamed priest who works closely with the factory workers, unnamed because of very probably possible reprisals from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA), the repressive arm of the Park Chung Hee government. "Management and workers work together and make nice fruit, but our company owners won't divide the fruit with the workers. We have five good labor laws, but the owners say they're only paper, ... They break the laws 100 percent and our government knows that."

Strikes are illegal in South Korea.

Underneath the impressive growth statistics lies a shaky economy. The Institute for International Policy, a Washington think tank, warned in December that South Korea "is headed for economic chaos." Besides a deficit in its international balance of payments, soaring external debt, inflation, and high defense spending (scheduled to consume 35% of the national budget) the New York Times cited on other reason: "Political instability that results from President Park Chung Hee's rule by fear and repression and from his destruction of political and economic institutions to enhance his one-man regime."

Park's recent innovations in government include rewriting the constitution to create a virtual and perpetual dictatorship, issuing several "emergency decrees", making it illegal to oppose Park in any way, and arresting, jailing, torturing, or executing hundreds of students, clergy, and intellectuals who have dared to call for a democratic government.

Recent headlines read "Seoul Arrests Top 2 Foes of President", "11 Critics of Regime are Seized in Seoul", "400 Professors Ousted in Korea" (all from NYT).

Park has used the threat of North Korean invasion and the presence of 40,000 American troops stationed in his country to make these changes. Yet the courageous opponents of his regime who have dared to raise their voices also fear such an invasion and are anti-communist. They seek an end to the continuing Cold War with the North and favor eventual peaceful reunification. Above all, they seek an end to Park's kind of government. Eleven persons signMarch 1March1 a plea for the return of freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and an independent judiciary. They were arrested and interrogated for several days.

The U.S. government actively supports the Park regime. President Ford visited Park in 1974. The U.S., besides investing $145 million in mostly military and military-related aid to Park last year, $74 million in cheap rice under the "Food for Peace" program, $40 million in U.S. troops camped out in South Korea, and promise to revamp South Korea's army at the cost of $1.5 billion to Americans; and with Park's stranglehold on Korean workers, the U.S. takes advantage of the cheap labor and non-existent environmental laws for easy profits. Friar James Sinnott, an American missionary expelled last year from South Korean for speaking against Park, state, "The problem is not in Seoul, ... in Manila, ... in Santiago. The problem is in Washington."

Michigan State University, with many other American universities, serves as a research and advisory arm of U.S. foreign policy. MSU is currently involved in two related agricultural studies: a five-year Korean Agricultural Sector Simulation (KASS) involving five MSU personnel and funded by the State Department's Agency for International Development which ends in June; and a Korean Agricultural Planning Project (KAPP) involving eight MSU personnel working with the Korean Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to end in 1977.

The KASS project provides an analytical backdrop for agricultural policy decisions and involves constructing a computer profile of the Korean agricultural sector. This profile includes sensitive points in the economy (e.g., fertilizer input) which can be adjusted, and the possible repercussions of such various actions analyzed.

The KAPP project build on the mouoftain f data put together in KASS study to "help identify the planning issues and policy problems requiring analysis." (MSU International Report, Spring 1975) The KAPP project will assist Korean decision-makers.

The MSU Korean projects have amassed a great deal of valuable Onata. N the surface the projects appear politically neutral, as MSU's projects are designed to be, yet underneath the have serious political implications.

First, the Korean Agricultural projects are designed to accomplish the increased industrialization of Korea. Besides a desired increase in the quality and quantity of food production, and a higher quality of life in rural Korea, which is all fine and good, the projects try to cope with the demands place on the agricultural sector by the Korean economy as a whole. According to an MSU publication entitled Korean Agricultural Sector Analysis and Recommended Development Strategies, 1971- 1985, these displaced agrarians will end up in the already crowded urban labor force (Seoul has 7,000,000 people) to be underpaid and deprived of any control over their work situation.

Second, the same publication calls for the implementation of its recommended strategies "for political stability, both domestically and in Korea's relationship with the rest of the world." (emphasis mine, p. 85).

Increased political stability means for Korea greater exploitation by foreign and domestic corporations. Korea's basic resource for the worldwide capitalist economy is a large, cheap labor pool, kept cheap by government controlled unions (with strikes illegal).

The plan, if implemented will free farm labor to work in the multinational corporation-owned factories, while increasing agricultural production.

Alternatives to the MSU plan have been developed in the People's Republic of China where emphasis has been place on decentralizing the economy, moving light industry to the countryside, and keeping the populace close to the source of food production, thereby eliminating distribution costs.

George Rossmiller, Field Director for the Korean study, said about the Chinese experience, that he is "not sure that it's applicable to Korea."

As to the question of MSU's de facto support of Park regime by outlining the strategies whereby political stability (Park's stability) is maintained, Rossmiller does believe that Park's "objectives could be achieved in other ways." He admitted in an informal discussion Friday, April 23rd, that "human rights are not as widespread as Americans would like them to be:, but then added if "they (Koreans) break the law, they should be willing to pay the consequences."

All dissent in Korea is outlawed, oftentimes punishable by death.

Admittedly there is much benefit to be derived from MSU's detailed study. Michigan Sate has great resources to offer developing countries. But MSU repeatedly deals with governments which show no regard for human rights, which exploit their own working people by selling the country to foreign capitalists, which rarely in fact represent the will of the people. Yet U.S. foreign policy, which keeps these dictators like Park in office is responsive to a degree to the American public, probably more so than MSU's foreign policy.

Rossmiller was asked about the possibility of canceling the contract as a gesture of recognition of Park's tactics and thereby support the withdrawal of U.S. support which legitimizes Park and helps keep him in power. He replied, "What we're trying to do is help the people of Korea. Are the people better off with or without the project?"

A very subtle and meaningful question, worthy of thought.

Special thanks to Pete Dougherty of the Abrahamic Community for much valuable information.

James I Davis

Correction (appeared in the 5/13 - 5/26/76 issue):

In the last issue of The Star, an MSU publication was falsely quoted. The publication actually outline a means of freeing "up to 10 million healthy well-trained people to help develop Korea's industries and urban economies" who were to come from the agrarian sector. These people would fuel the foreign capital controlled urban economy which takes advantage of Korea's outrageously low wages. The article did not intend to misrepresent MSU at all, as what they are doing is already bad enough.