The scenes are familiar: women pressing roses on riot police, people taking food to demonstrators, motorists blowing horns, office workers shouting support from windows.
It looks like the Philippines. But it's South Korea, where the largest demonstrations of recent years are taking place. The siege of the Cathedral of Myongdong Cathedral where 300 students sought sanctuary has been lifted, but no one thinks that's the end of Korean rage and frustration over a corrupt and repressive government.
South Korea is not the pauperized Philippines. It is enjoying an "economic miracle" and is second only to Japan in exports to the United States. President Chun Doo Hwan presides over a military that is larger, more strictly controlled than Ferdinand Marcos' army was. And although the United States is behaving much the same toward Chun as it did toward Marcos, it has the excuse of a visible hostile communist threat in North Korea.
The new demonstrations are showing that money may not be everything to Koreans. The haves are for the first time joining the protesting students. A successful, well-educated, energetic people do not care to be told that they are not mature enough to choose how they will be governed. By pouring into the streets, they are saying that the Olympics, which are scheduled for 1988 in Seoul, are not everything, either. The games can hardly go on if the spectators can expect to be tear-gassed.
U.S. Ambassador James Lilly attended the convention in Seoul at which Chun's Democratic Justice Party nominated another general, Roh Tae Woo, as his successor. The choice will be ratified by an electoral college vote next February. The State Department insists that his attendance did not bespeak approval of the process, which is "an internal matter."
A department spokesman said the ambassador is interested in all manner of political activity, and would speak with the opposition. But he has never called on the most conspicuous democratic dissident, Kim Dae Jung, who has been under house arrest in Seoul since April 13 for insisting on popular elections.
While the demonstrations were at their height, President Reagan in Berlin found another, and distinctly odd, occasion to praise President Chun.
"Sports," Reagan said, "represents a source of enjoyment and ennoblement, and you may have noted that the Republic of Korea, South Korea, has offered to permit certain events of the 1988 Olympics to take place in the North."
The president usually hates cooperation with the communists -- he rejects it in the Persian Gulf -- but he apparently thought it was more important for Chun to join the Reds in games than to let his own people assemble without being tear-gassed.
Lilly's appointment was ill-received in Seoul. He was a longtime CIA agent, a fact left out of his State Department biography but included in the White House version. The Koreans, too well acquainted with the vicious competence of their own, demonstrated vigorously against his coming.
The U.S. role is as important in Korea as it was in the Philippines. As usual, our sympathies are with the strong man. Chun craves legitimacy, because he seized power in a bloody coup in 1979. The Reagan administration has been glad to oblige. He was Reagan's first post-inaugural state visitor. It was reward for commuting Kim Dae Jung's death sentence. He was asked back in 1985.
Shin Bom Lee of the International Center for Development Policy, who was Kim Dae Jung's cellmate for six years, says that "faced with a choice between the Olympics and democracy, the Koreans will choose democracy."
The electoral college ensures the election of Chun's choice. Rural areas with only 30 percent of the population will elect 60 percent of the electors. Farmers are totally dependent on the government for pesticides and fertilizers, and will do what they are told. The press is state-controlled.
Edward J. Baker of Harvard, a member of Asia Watch, says that the present crisis has shown a sad history of lost U.S. opportunities. A statement last Wednesday deploring "violence on both sides" simply ignored the realities.
"The Korean people cannot assemble freely. They can assemble only if they are ready to risk tear gas and being taken in for questioning. It was a moment for us to repeat our commitment to free assembly."
Baker thinks the U.S. stance says only that "we want the status quo to be continued without getting blamed for what is going on."
The Koreans seem to be taking matters into their own hands. The Philippines proved it's better that way.