Sunday, March 2, 2014

W. at The Shilla for Chosun

You know you're entering POTUS territory when your mobile phone plays dead. Even when said POTUS is, in his own terms, "retired" and "out of the loop". For good measure, George W. Bush started oil painting a couple of years ago, but so far, his teacher has failed to bring out the "Rembrandt trapped in (his) body". Laura convinced him to expose at his Presidential Library the portraits of 27 heads of state, and I really wonder if Jacques Chirac is a member of this new "Axis of Easel".

When it comes to collecting former heads of state, you can trust Chosun Ilbo's prestigious Asian Leadership Conference. If we solely consider the host nation and the US of A, the conference started last year* with the Prime Minister and a former Secretary of State, and for this 5th edition, with President Park Geun-hye and "43". Whom do they have in store for 2015? 

This morning at The Shilla, Chosun Media also delivered 4 former Prime Ministers: Yukio HATOYAMA (who strongly condemned Shinzo ABE for his infamous Yasukuni visit), Julia GILLARD (still not much into foreign affairs, I reckon), Lothar de MAIZIÈRE (who signed the reunification treaty for East Germany), and Goh Chok Tong (who succeeded Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore). The first 3 were on stage with Leon PANETTA, the former Secretary of Defense of the United States / Director of the CIA / Chief of Staff, and RYOO Kihl-Jae, South Korea's Minister of Unification... or shall I say "Minister of Bonanza"?

James Pearson (‏@pearswick): "The Blue House says 대박's official translation is now 'bonanza', not 'jackpot'. So roll on the 'unification bonanza'". Seoul Village (‏@theseoulvillage) " @pearswick meet the new Ministry of Unification"
Note that Chosun Ilbo CEO BANG Sang-hoon used the English word 'jackpot' in his opening remarks. And that both he and PARK Geun-hye elaborated on the satellite night view of North Korea recently published by the ISS (see "Superpower failures").

Difficult to think of a better image to measure the challenge ahead for the theme this year: "One Korea, New Asia". But the two videos aired during the Opening Ceremony were much more positive: spectacular series of pristine DMZ landscapes (okay, a few military here and there), followed by an animated movie showing two railways reach across the Korean peninsula and, beyond, Eurasia: one via Beijing, the other via Moscow.

But so far, we've heard little about Russia, in spite of Vladimir Putin's efforts to steal some of the spotlights a priori devoted to KIM Jong-un.  

"Curious to hear what G. W. Bush will say about "Ukrainia" at ALC Chosun. An "Axis of Anvil" with Russia's resurrected hammer and sickle?"
We also owe that to Dr. HAHM Chaibong. The President of ASAN Institute was moderating W's keynote speech, which turned out to be a friendly discussion that did venture into unexpected territories (that's where we learned about Dubya's artistic ambitions), but always remained focused on the topic of the day. 

The cameras focused on various parts of the audience while the two notoriously cool dudes chatted pleasantly on stage: are they talking about human rights in North Korea? here's a close-up of CHUNG Mong-joon on the giant screens; is Bush's recalling how Samsung invested in Texas when he was the Governor? here's LEE Jay-yong's face...

Let's be very clear: I'm not a Bush fan, and that's an outrageous understatement. Typically, I was not so convinced when this man tearfully recalled how "appalled" he was to see a government deny all justice to prisoners kept in the camps depicted in "The Aquariums of Pyongyang" or "Escape from Camp 14"**: Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib were not precisely the finest moments of his own Administration.

But give him that: George W. Bush remains the heckuvan entertainer, and I couldn't repress smiles at his incessant wisecracks, for example when he told the story of that lost phone call to Jiang Zemin. Dubya the pseudo-Texan also remains at his swaggering best: look at him dismiss the risk of seeing China eclipse America ("forget it! it's not gonna happen!"), or the risk of himself coming out of retirement ("I had all the fame and power, I don't want anymore!").

"W" at The Shilla for Chosun - Today, I learned that in the George W. Bush Presidential Library, you're likely to find not only bibles and rare editions of My Pet Goat, but also great books about North Korean prison camps.

The former POTUS gracefully praised all the Chinese and Korean leaders he served with, ROH Moo-hyun as well as his friend LEE Myung-bak (after all, The Attorney was the partner at the origin of the FTA).

And when he left the room, my mobile phone miraculously resurrected.

Seoul Village 2014
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* see "Asian Leadership Conference 2013"
** GWB will again meet with KANG Chol-hwan and SHIN Dong-hyuk this afternoon

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