Sydney man Chan Han Choinpleads guilty to contravening UN sanctions over North Korea deals

On Wednesday, the jury was discharged after Mr Choi pleaded guilty to two charges on a new indictment – a formal document setting out the charges an accused person is facing.

Mr Choi pleaded guilty to engaging in conduct between August 5 and December 16, 2017, that contravened a UN sanction enforcement law, and engaging in conduct that contravened a sanction law in the same period. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.

“We’re very relieved. A far more rational array of charges are now facing Mr Choi,” his lawyer, Mark Davis, said outside court.

Chan Han Choi was arrested by Australian Federal Police in December 2017.Credit:Australian Federal Police

He said the most “sinister connotation” in the trial “is now gone”, in an apparent reference to an allegation of attempting to sell missiles to other jurisdictions.

“He’s rejecting the military sort of implication; he’s rejecting anything being supplied by him to North Korea completely,” Mr Davis said.

“He was in business previously when it was legal to be in business selling North Korean

. Now … he’s pleading guilty to breaching the embargoes that were put in place around North Korea for various products.

Chan Han Choi pleaded guilty to two charges.

Chan Han Choi pleaded guilty to two charges. Credit:Rhett Wyman

“We’re disputing missiles. It’s a sanctions breach, that’s what he’s pleading to, and on sentence there’s certain material that we wish to put forward in his defence as to why he did so and what his views on North Korea are.”

The new indictment, dated February 10, alleged Mr Choi provided a brokering service for the sale of arms, military equipment and coal from North Korea to other jurisdictions; and a brokering service for the sale of refined petroleum products to North Korea.

The parties will return to court on March 19 to set a date for Mr Choi’s sentencing hearing.

Crown Prosecutor Jennifer Single SC previously told jurors that none of the alleged transactions was successful but “that does not matter, on the Crown’s case”.

“What is important is the accused’s role in terms of those transactions and whether you are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was involved in brokering those transactions,” she said.

She alleged Mr Choi told people he had connections to “Kim Jong-un, the [North Korean] Supreme Leader”.

Mr Choi’s defence counsel, Robert Webb, had told the jury the case rested on whether his client “is anything more than a bag of hot air”.

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Chan Han Choi denies brokering missile deals with North Korea, had links to Kim Jong-un, Sydney court told

A man accused of brokering deals for North Korea, including missiles, has alleged he had connections to the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, a Sydney court has heard.

Chan Han Choi has pleaded not guilty to seven charges, including contravening United Nations sanctions and providing services to assist a weapons of mass destruction program.

The 62-year-old was born in South Korea, arrived in Australia in 1987 and became a citizen in 2000, the NSW Supreme Court heard today.

For about four months before his arrest in the Sydney suburb of Eastwood in December 2017, he was allegedly involved in brokering five transactions, including for coal, petrol and missiles.

The alleged transactions were both from and to North Korea.

Crown Prosecutor Jennifer Single SC told jurors there would be no eye witnesses, but rather the case would rely on documents, emails, intercepted phone calls and experts.

Ms Single foreshadowed evidence of Mr Choi alleging “connections” to Kim Jong-un.

“The accused has travelled to North Korea on at least seven occasions,” Ms Single said.

Despite his South Korean origin, Mr Choi had “extensive connections” to the country, she said.

“He has had a North Korean bank account … he regularly communicates with people who, on the Crown case, are from North Korea.”

Ms Single told jurors none of the alleged transactions were successful, but the fact that Mr Choi had “pulled the plug” before they succeeded was not relevant.

“That does not matter, on the Crown’s case,” she said.

“What is important is the accused’s role in terms of those transactions and whether you are satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that he was involved in brokering those transactions.”

The court heard there will be references in communication to “pine trees” and “the nursery” which the Crown alleges were coded language for missile technologies.

Defence barrister Robert Webb said his client held himself out to be a civil engineer but his communications amounted to nothing more than “just talk and hot air”.

He urged the jury to approach the case with an open mind and said some key matters that were in dispute included the question of intent.

“As the burden of proof is on the Crown, really the question is not ‘what on earth was he doing or trying to do’, but rather ‘did he intend to provide the prohibited or sanctioned services’,” Mr Webb said.

The trial, before Justice Christine Adamson, continues.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Northern Ontario schools reopen to in-class learning; WHO experts arriving in China to begin probe of virus origins; South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free


  • 5:10 a.m. South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free

  • 5:02 a.m. WHO experts arriving in China Thursday for virus origins probe

  • 4 a.m. Northern Ontario schools reopen to in-class learning as southern students stay home

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:16 a.m. The Japanese Health Ministry has found a coronavirus variant in people arriving from Brazil that’s different from the ones in Britain and South Africa.

The variant was found in four people tested at the airport, the ministry said Sunday. Japan was working with other nations, the World Health Organization and other medical experts to analyze the variant.

The previously identified variants from Britain and South Africa are more contagious, but the behaviour of this variant and the illness it causes are not yet known.

5:12 a.m. Authorities in northern France launched a weeklong mass testing program on Monday to assess the rate of coronavirus infections and the spread of a more contagious variant that first appeared in southern England in November.

In the city of Roubaix, health officials said they hope to test 10% of the population by Saturday. That represents 10,000 people.

Sequencing will be carried out on the positive samples to detect whether the variant is present.

France has been criticized for its slow vaccination program, having vaccinated only a fraction of some of its neighbours.

5:10 a.m. South Korea’s president says it’ll offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all its people free of charge in phases.

President Moon Jae-in made the comments in his New Year’s address on Monday. He has maintained an earlier government announcement that the inoculation will start from February.

South Korean officials have said they’ll have vaccines for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 52 million people.

Who will get vaccinated first has not yet been decided but is likely to be people at long-term care centres and nurses and doctors.

After weeks of a resurgence, South Korea’s virus caseload has gradually slowed amid tough distancing rules that include a ban on social gatherings of five or more people. Earlier Monday, South Korea reported 451 new virus cases, the first time for its daily tally to come below 500 in 41 days. The country’s total stands at 69,114 with 1,140 deaths.

5:05 a.m. More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.

The polls were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS — the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

The results are bad news for Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as they continue to say the postponed Olympics will open on July 23.

Tokyo is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted the national government last week to call a state of emergency. In declaring the emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was confident the Olympics would be held.

5:02 a.m. Experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive in China this week for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.

The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, the National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment last week over delays, saying that members of the international scientific team departing from their home countries had already started on their trip as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China had approved the visit following consultations between the sides and called it an opportunity to “exchange views with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific co-operation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus.”



4:54 a.m. Alberta kids return to full-time in-person classes this week, but the back-to-school story is a bit more complicated in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that lockdown restrictions imposed last month would continue until Jan. 21, but schools were an exception and would reopen Monday.

A full return to classes in Manitoba, however, won’t happen until Jan. 18, although in-person learning has been available as an option for children in kindergarten through Grade 6 as well as for older kids with special needs.

Students’ return to the classroom in Saskatchewan depends on the schedule of each school division.

Regina Public Schools kept elementary and high school students learning at home last week with the plan to resume in-person learning today.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, meanwhile, already welcomed students back last week.

Monday 4 a.m. Elementary school students across northern Ontario can return to in-class learning this morning.

The northern portion of the province is allowed to return to school buildings as positivity rates for COVID-19 are relatively low.

The provincial government announced on Thursday that schools across southern Ontario, meanwhile, would not be returning to in-person classes today as planned.

Instead, students in southern Ontario will continue attending classes remotely until at least Jan. 25.

To account for the change, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Saturday that the list of essential workers eligible for emergency child care would be expanded.

It now includes RCMP officers, custodial and clerical education workers and postal staff.

Sunday 9:30 p.m.: Now that COVID-19 vaccines have started arriving in Canada, where’s the national public awareness campaign around their safety and effectiveness?

It’s a question public health experts have been asking as vaccinations have begun for high-risk populations, with access for the general public likely to start in the spring.

“You always want to start this stuff sooner rather than later,” said Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and partner at ETIO Public Health Consultants, on the need for a public awareness campaign.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada told the Star that a “mass campaign” is planned for the spring, although a budget estimate hasn’t been finalized.

In the meantime, a campaign for winter 2021 budgeted at $4.5 million “will include regular updates on vaccine distribution and administration, as well as advertising, outreach and social media marketing to provide Canadians with vaccine information, including facts and expert answers, and to address misinformation,” the agencies said in a written statement.

Read the full story here.

Click here to read more COVID-19 coverage from Sunday.

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North Korea says leader Kim elected as general secretary of ruling party: KCNA

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been elected as general secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, state media KCNA said on Monday (Jan 11), taking over the title from his late father in a largely symbolic move seen aimed at further cementing his power.

The election took place on Sunday during the party’s ongoing multi-year congress, designed for Kim to map out blueprints for his diplomatic, military and economic policy over the next five years and make key personnel decisions.

The congress “fully approved” a proposal for promoting Kim to general secretary of the party, KCNA said, calling the position “head of the revolution and centre of guidance and unity.”

READ: ‘Our biggest enemy’: North Korea’s Kim says US policy doesn’t change with presidents

READ: North Korea’s Kim says economic plan failed as rare party congress begins

Kim has wielded almost absolute power in dynastically ruled North Korea since taking over following the death of his father Kim Jong Il in 2011. In 2012, the party named Kim Jong Il “eternal general secretary” and Kim Jong Un “the first secretary” at a conference.

The party also held elections for its Central Committee, a key governing body that includes the powerful politburo, KCNA said.

Kim Yo Jong, the young leader’s sister and senior party official who had previously been a candidate member of the politburo, was not on the list, confounding widespread expectations from observers of the reclusive regime.

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North Korea: Kim Jong Un calls for more nuclear weapons to combat ‘US hostility’ | World News

Kim Jong Un has threatened to expand North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems unless the US ends what he calls its “hostility” to his regime.

The North Korean leader ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Speaking at a party congress on Friday, he said the key to establishing new relations between his country and the US is “whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy”.

President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in 2019

In what appears to be an attempt to put pressure on the incoming Biden administration, he said North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability to guard against the threat of a US invasion.

Mr Kim said he was not advocating a pre-emptive strike and would not use the weapons unless his country was itself threatened with nuclear attack.

The directive came on the fourth day of his country’s first ruling party congress in five years.

He also called the US the “biggest enemy” of North Korea and said Washington’s hostile policy toward Pyongyang would not change regardless of who occupies the White House, KCNA said.

Mr Biden, who is to take office later this month, called Mr Kim a “thug” during the presidential election campaign and said the “days of cozying up to dictators are over”.

Last year, North Korea called Mr Biden a “rabid dog” that needed to be “beaten to death with a stick.”

President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden called Mr Kim a ‘thug’ during the presidential election campaign

Mr Biden said in October he would only meet Mr Kim if he decommissioned his nuclear weapons, saying “the Korean peninsula should be a nuclear-free zone”.

Nuclear diplomacy between North Korea and the US has largely stalled since the breakdown of a second summit between the Mr Kim and outgoing President Donald Trump in February 2019 in Vietnam.

After the failed Hanoi summit, North Korea carried out several short-range missile and other weapons tests.

The two countries have since been in a face-off over the next steps in their negotiations, with North Korea refusing to disarm in return for a reprieve on its sanctions – dashing hopes of denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

Last January, Mr Kim accused the US of dragging its feet in nuclear negotiations and said his country will continue developing nuclear programmes and introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future.

In October, the secretive country showed off what was thought to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile on the ruling party’s 75th anniversary.

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Kim Jong Un admits his economic plan for North Korea has failed | World News

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has admitted his economic development plans for the country are a failure.

In his opening speech to the congress of the Workers’ Party, Mr Kim confessed his five-year finance programme had failed to achieve its goals “in almost all areas to a great extent”.

According to the country’s official Korean Central News Agency, he described the difficulties facing his government as “the worst-ever” and “unprecedented”.

Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event

Kim Jong Un says the plan has failed

The five-year plan was established at the 2016 congress but following its collapse, the leader has now called for a replacement, as well as a review of North Korea’s metal, chemical, electric and other key industries.

Authoritarian North Korea is one of the poorest countries in Asia, and the already-besieged economy is being hammered by pandemic-related border closings with China, the North’s major economic lifeline, the fallout from a series of natural disasters last summer and persistent US-led sanctions over their nuclear programme.

Mr Kim appealed to the congress: “We should further promote and expand the successes and victories that we’ve achieved through our painstaking efforts but prevent us from having the painful lessons again.”

The Workers’ Party Congress, one of the North’s biggest propaganda spectacles, is meant to help Mr Kim show a worried nation that he’s firmly in control and to boost unity behind his leadership in the face of COVID-19 and other growing economic challenges.

It is thought a prolonged coronavirus-related lockdown may be further destabilizing food and foreign exchange markets and aggravating livelihoods in North Korea.

President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President Trump met Kim Jong Un in 2019 in Hanoi

But some critics are sceptical that the stage-managed congress will find any fundamental solutions to North Korea’s difficulties, many of which stem from decades of economic mismanagement and Mr Kim’s headlong pursuit of expensive nuclear weapons meant to target the US mainland.

US-led sanctions against North Korea toughened after Mr Kim’s unusually aggressive run of nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017.

Nevertheless, he has still repeatedly pushed for an expansion of his nuclear arsenal to cope with what he calls US hostility.

Mr Kim entered talks with President Donald Trump in 2018, but their diplomacy has been deadlocked for about two years because of wrangling over the sanctions.

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South Korea to dispatch diplomat for Tehran talks after Iran seizes tanker

South Korea has decided to send a delegation to Iran to seek the release of a tanker seized in Gulf waters by Iranian forces.

A senior diplomat will go ahead with a planned visit to Tehran amid tensions over $7 billion in Iranian funds ($215,066) frozen in Korean banks due to US sanctions.

News of the visit came as Seoul’s foreign ministry called in the Iranian ambassador to South Korea for a meeting and urged the early release of the South Korean-flagged tanker and its crew of 20.

The tanker was carrying a cargo of more than 7,000 tonnes of ethanol when it was seized on Monday local time over what Iranian media said were “pollution violations”.

An Iranian Government spokesman rejected mounting allegations that the seizure of the vessel amounted to hostage-taking, and instead pointed to South Korea’s holding of Iran’s funds as “hostage”.

“We’ve become used to such allegations … but if there is any hostage-taking, it is [South] Korea’s Government that is holding $7 billion which belongs to us hostage on baseless grounds,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said to reporters at a news conference streamed live online.

The incident comes as Iran has shown increasing signs of willingness to assert its claims in the region as US president-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office later this month, succeeding Donald Trump.

Iran started violating a nuclear deal in 2019 in response to Mr Trump’s withdrawal from it the previous year.(Reuters: Shamil Zhumatov)

Tehran also said it had resumed 20 per cent uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility: The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after Washington withdrew from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.

When asked about the status of the ship’s crew before his meeting at the Seoul foreign ministry, Iranian ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari told reporters “all of them are safe”.

Iranian state TV previously cited that a Tehran Government official said South Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun had been scheduled to visit before the seizure of the tanker to discuss Iran’s demand that the frozen funds be released.

Mr Choi will discuss “various pending issues” between the two countries on top of the seizure, foreign ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam told a briefing in Seoul.

“In the earliest possible time, a working-level delegation led by the regional director will be dispatched to Iran to try to resolve the issue on the ground through bilateral negotiations,” Mr Choi said.

China calls for calm

Meanwhile, China has urged calm and restraint after Iran’s uranium announcement, which breaches a 2015 nuclear pact with major powers, including China.

Iran started violating the accord in 2019 in a step-by-step response to Mr Trump’s withdrawal from it the previous year and the reimposition of US sanctions, which had been lifted under the deal.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Iran nuclear issue was at a critical juncture and was “extremely complex and sensitive”.

“China urges all sides to exercise calm and restraint, to stick to the commitments of the agreement and to refrain from taking actions that might escalate tensions, so as to make space for diplomatic efforts and a change in the situation,” she told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

“The urgent task at hand is for all sides to push the United States to return unconditionally to the agreement and remove all relevant sanctions,” Ms Hua said.

Doing so could help bring the agreement back onto “the right track”, she said.

The agreement’s main aim was to extend the “breakout” time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, if it chose, to at least a year from roughly two to three months.

It also lifted international sanctions against Iran.


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Coronavirus | South Korea expands ban on social gatherings nationwide

South Korea expanded a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to the whole country, and extended unprecedented social distancing rules in greater Seoul as the number of daily cases bounced back to more than1,000 in four days.

South Korea has been experiencing a prolonged surge in infections during the latest wave, which has led to a sharp increase in deaths.

The country reported 1,020 new coronavirus cases as of Sunday midnight, bringing the total to 64,264 infections, with981 deaths, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency(KDCA).

Only 657 cases reported over the weekend. A health official had said that the recent third wave of infections is being contained.

The extended social-distancing rules imposed on Seoul and neighbouring areas include curbs on churches, restaurants, cafes, ski resorts and other venues.

More than 60% of the cases are from Seoul, Gyeonggi province and city of Incheon, with mass cluster outbreaks centred around nursing homes and prisons.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for an all-out effort to prepare for the country’s vaccination programme.

“The KDCA should perfectly ready for the entire process the moment the vaccine arrives — the distribution, storage,inoculation and follow-ups,” Mr. Chung told a government meeting.

He also called on the related health, safety and transport ministries to help speed up the process so to not face the sorts of problems seen in the United States and some countries in Europe.

The country plans to start vaccinations in February, with health workers and vulnerable people first in line, but the government has been criticised for that schedule in light of vaccinations under way in the United States and European Union.

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South Korea reports record daily death toll from COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: Workers wearing protective gear disinfect an arrival gate as an electronic board shows arrivals’ information amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at the Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

December 29, 2020

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday reported 40 new coronavirus deaths, a record daily toll, bringing the total death tally to 859, as the country grapples with a third wave of infection centred around nursing homes and a prison in the capital Seoul.

South Korean officials have vowed to accelerate the launch of a vaccination programme after detecting the virus variant linked to the rapid rise in infections in Britain.

As of midnight Monday there were 1,046 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 58,725, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said. Of the new cases, 1,030 were locally transmitted and more than half were found in Seoul.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressed regret over a mass cluster infection in a Seoul prison, with a total 757 infections, and called for all-out prevention measures.

Authorities had ramped up testing to track down potential cases of unknown origin and those that display no symptoms, especially in the Seoul metropolitan area.

More than 500,000 tests were conducted in the temporary testing centres in the greater Seoul area over the past two weeks, where over 1,400 patients were identified, said Chung.

“We made progress in finding the silent spreaders and prevent the transmission,” Chung told a meeting.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Banyan – Confucianism has become a political punchbag in South Korea | Asia

“CONFUCIAN LAND” is a cultural exhibition in the South Korean city of Andong. It first asks visitors to reflect on the horrors of contemporary society, including war, consumerism and sexual licence. It then invites them to travel through a “tunnel of time” to 16th-century Korea, when Confucianism was the official philosophy of the royal court. The Korea of yore is portrayed as a harmonious Utopia, save for the occasional battle against Japanese invaders. Virtuous conduct, imply the displays charting the daily life of a Confucian scholar in a humble village, underpinned perfect social cohesion.

Some observers, including both Koreans and foreigners, are inclined to attribute all the successes of contemporary South Korea to the lingering influence of Confucianism. Rapid economic development, the academic prowess of Korean students, even the largely successful curbing of covid-19—it is all thanks to the ancient Chinese system of thought imported to Korea two thousand years ago. Others go to the opposite extreme, blaming Confucianism for all manner of latter-day blights, including authoritarianism, sexism, stifling workplace hierarchies and entrenched corruption in industrial conglomerates.

To attribute all that is good or bad to Confucianism more than a century after it ceased to be Korea’s official state ideology is, at best, absurdly reductive. Yet it is invoked in part because it remains so visible. Kwon Seok-hwan shows visitors around the school in Andong founded by Yi Hwang, the 16th-century Confucian scholar who graces the 1,000-won bill. He insists that Yi Hwang continues to be a role model, for his renunciation of worldly concerns in the pursuit of knowledge. Long-suffering pupils across the country are taught classical poetry and calligraphy, all with a Confucian bent. Confucian ceremonies to revere ancestors remain common practice among many Korean families.

Inevitably, Confucian tradition has taken on a political tint. “It’s often used as a label whenever people want to praise or criticise society,” says Kim Do-il of the Institute of Confucian Philosophy and Culture at Sungkyunkwan University (the successor to a Confucian academy set up in the 14th century). What people say about Confucianism often provides a clue to their contemporary political convictions.

One notable example is Park Chung-hee, a military dictator in the 1960s and 1970s, who redefined the Confucian virtues of filial piety and loyalty in a way that legitimised his authoritarianism, says Ro Young-chan of George Mason University. Park wanted citizens to identify with the state. In effect, he sought to create the “obedient Asians’’ of racist stereotypes, a trope that has resurfaced during the pandemic to explain more conscientious mask-wearing and social distancing in South Korea than in America or Europe.

Park is not the only one to have used Confucianism. Feminists invoke the term to grumble about women’s outsize domestic duties, or the expectation that they will pour drinks for male friends. Twenty-somethings cite it when lamenting parental meddling in their personal affairs. Conservatives say that deference to elders and humility towards strangers are national traits based on Confucian values, which are sadly being eroded by modern ideas. One told your correspondent that Confucius wanted to live in Korea because its inhabitants were so polite—a claim that is hard to verify 2,500 years after the sage’s demise.

But even if the invocation of Confucianism says more about the invoker’s disdain for social convention or nostalgia for a non-existent past than about the tradition itself, that still reflects its enduring influence. Mr Ro of George Mason University argues that Confucianism forms part of South Korea’s social subconscious, which leads people to assume (and chafe against) certain social norms even if they rarely think about their origins. “If you ask a random stranger in the street, they won’t say they’re Confucian,” he says. “But they’ll still be aware of certain expectations about how to behave—as a sibling, a child, an employee—which are connected to those ideas.”

Mr Kim agrees that Confucian values are a living influence on Korean society. But they are increasingly in conflict with newer ideas about individual freedom, personal autonomy, sexual equality and the like. As elsewhere, sublimating disputes about how liberal a society should be into blanket reverence or disdain for “traditional values” does not make the underlying argument any easier to resolve.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Dazed and Confucius”

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