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Why US beef stir-fries South Korean politics
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By Zhou Jing

About 100,000 flag-waving South Koreans marched in downtown Seoul on Tuesday, June 10. This was the biggest protest yet over the impending resumption of United States beef imports.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and the entire cabinet offered to resign on Tuesday amid the uproar over the unpopular deal, the Yonhap news agency reported. President Lee Myung-bak may indeed approve several ministers' resignations, according to a Beijing News commentary on June 11.

Protesters rally on a street leading to the US embassy and the presidential Blue House in central Seoul June 10, 2008. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Why does US beef cause such a stir in the South Korean political arena?

Zhan Xiaohong, a researcher from the Economics Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Science, gives his analysis in the commentary: South Korean people have a preference for their domestic agricultural, meat, and seafood products, considering them much tastier, safer, healthier and more environmentally friendly.

In South Korea, domestic beef is sold separately from imported product and is much more expensive. Data indicates that beef sold in South Korea is the most expensive in the world. In 2007, one kilogram costs 58,000 won (about US$60).

South Korea suspended US beef imports to prevent mad cow disease in December 2003. In recent years, the question of resuming imports has even become a barometer for US-South Korea relations.

This February Lee Myung-bak was elected as the new president of South Korea. He pushed for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US as his most important foreign trade policy. Lee chose the US as his first official visit destination, and the two countries reached an agreement in April that would clear the way for South Korea to resume importing beef from the US, while the US agreed to reduce its military presence in South Korea.

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