Asia media examine Trump: The view from South Korea

by Jin Lee

South Korean journalism is paying less attention to international affairs due to seriousness of the political scandal in South Korea.

Still, however, journalists here are covering the United States under Donald Trump’s presidency. This is not just because of the bonds between the U.S and South Korea, but because of the status of the US as the world-leading country in the economy and international politics.

As President Trump continues to sell the “American First” idea since his presidential campaign, however, many countries have expressed discomfort about Trump being president. South Korea is no exception. As much as many South Korean citizens are unhappy about Trump because of his enforced immigration policy and hostile attitude to non-white foreigners, the way South Korean journalism covers Trump administration is unfavorable.

Such concerns were initiated after Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen). Trump’s immigration policy has sparked a fierce debate in South Korean media over racism and global citizenship, which made not only those listed countries but also the rest of world puzzled, worried, and even threatened. South Korean media have seriously criticized the order, seeing several subsequent cases as being unfair to South Korea.

One case occurred Feb. 11 in Koreatown, Los Angeles, when a Caucasian woman attacked an 83-year-old Korean yelling “white power” before fleeing. This news has spread by social media. Los Angeles police have so far not apprehended the woman.

And on that same day a South Korean solo traveler was detained in Honolulu where his connecting flight to NYC was scheduled. The traveler said, not only was he barred from entering the country with no reason at the immigration checkpoint, but also that he was forced to say he had been illegally employed in the U.S., although he never had worked in America. His request to contact South Korea Embassy was reportedly denied by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Honolulu, and he subsequently was deported. South Korean news media covered both cases, saying “With the enactment of Trump’s executive order, possible unfavorable treatment to South Koreans may be happening.”

In addition to increasing concerns about South Korean citizens’ safety in the U.S., South Korean news media also are anxious about security on the Korean Peninsula. The Feb. 10 meeting between Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe provoked such anxiety. North Korea staged a ballistic missile test that day while Trump and Abe were playing golf in Florida. They quickly voiced their concerns about North Korea.

“I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” Trump said. South Korean media reported, “given his statement, U.S. under Trump seems to consider neither South Korea nor peace on the Korean Peninsula at all.”

South Korean media appear concerned that diplomatic relations between the US and South Korea have been changing after the inauguration of Donald Trump. The media coverage of international politics – mainly about the U.S. – is enough to trigger concerns and fears about security in South Korea among South Koreans.

Media here report that as Trump argues for a more protectionist American economic plan, many South Korean companies, such as Samsung and LG, will likely to encounter difficulties in their business with the U.S. In addition to the unfavorable immigration policy or attitude in the U.S., the security and economy of South Korea might be in trouble under Trump administration, many news media say.

While South Korean legacy media continue to produce news in a “South Korea in crisis” format under the Trump administration, new media, including Twitter, are full of cat images. One tweet in Korean reads, “After the 2016 presidential election, now the world, all we’ve got to do is upload pictures of cats and dogs.” Another twit in Korean says similarly, speaking to U.S. Twitter users, “Hey America, now you will understand why we only upload cat pictures. Soon your tweets will be full of pictures of cats.”

Some tweets directly mention a “world gone crazy.” By doing so, new media full of cat images seem to ridicule current politics. Those images of cats on Twitter do not just say “cats are so adorable.” Rather, by posting memes of cats that tease their owners or modifying cat images to make fun of human beings, Twitter users seem to enjoy the humor of the current political crisis.

It is no coincidence that funny memes of world leaders, including those of South Korean President Geun-Hye Park, North Korean President, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, are posted together with those cat memes on Twitter. Uploading funny pictures is a way new-media users here can temporarily escape current political and international crises. Through cat memes, Twitter users deride people in general. Through humorous images of presidents Park and Trump, they also blame the “stupidity” of politicians who were supposed to do their best for the better world, but instead cause bitter conflicts in the world.