Anti-US Feeling Could Spark Anti-Korean Boycott, Businesses Warn

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - An attack on a U.S. military officer in South Korea occurred less than a week after he reported that America service personnel were facing growing hostility in the country.

The incident comes as Korean business organizations warn that growing anti-U.S. feeling in the country could invite retaliation from American consumers.

Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, head of public affairs for the U.S. 8th Army, told last Monday that soldiers were reporting an increase in incidents of verbal abuse from Koreans, although there had been no reports of physical assaults.

That changed on Sunday, when three men in a pedestrian underpass accosted Boylan himself as he walked home from a key military base in Seoul, dressed in civilian clothing.

The men cursed him in English, shouting "get out" before punching him and trying to stab him in the stomach, according to a military statement.

He managed to get away and return to the base, but only after sustaining bruises and a three-centimeter cut. Boylan was treated for the wound and discharged.

Earlier the same day, three U.S. soldiers were involved in a skirmish with a taxi driver and Korean passengers, in the same area.

A Seoul government official expressed "deep regret and anxiety" over the attack on Boylan, and the National Police Agency said it was investigating, the official Yonhap news agency reported.

Anti-U.S. sentiment has grown in South Korea after the court-martial acquittal last month of two soldiers whose military vehicle knocked down and killed two local schoolgirls last June.

A spate of protest demonstrations calling for changes to the agreement governing U.S. soldiers' legal status in the country culminated in the largest rallies yet on Saturday, involving an estimated 300,000 people in events around the country.

Although the campaign has drawn in Koreans from all walks of life, some radical groups are using it to call for the withdrawal of the 37,000 American troops deployed there to help defend South Korea from its communist northern neighbor.

One of the Korean protestors' demands - for a direct apology from President Bush for the deaths of the girls - was met last Friday.

The White House said the president, in a telephone conversation with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, had conveyed his "deep, personal sadness and regret" over the deaths.

Last week, Boylan expressed disappointment about the atmosphere many U.S. troops were finding, saying he had not experienced a similar climate in his previous posting in Japan.

Precautions for soldiers were being stepped up, he said. In particular, Boylan added, "we're informing our people about potential trouble spots such as trains and subways."

He also reported that some Korean restaurants and other businesses had posted signs saying Americans weren't welcome.

Korea's five largest business organizations issued a joint statement Monday warning that anti-U.S. resentment could prompt U.S. consumers to retaliate in a way that would damage the Korean economy and cost jobs.

"The outbreak of an anti-Korean boycott and other retaliatory moves in the United States could batter Korea's trade surplus with the United States, which totaled $8.9 billion in 2001," said the statement from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Korea International Trade Association and three other groups.

They also said anti-U.S. protests could scare away Western investors.

"Even worse, the possibility of the existing U.S. investors pulling themselves out of Korea can not be ruled out," the groups added.

In the first eight months of this year, the U.S. accounted for 62 percent of total direct foreign investments in Korea.

See Earlier Story:
Chilly Winter Looms For American Troops In Korea (Dec. 9, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow