[EDITORIALS]Seoul Should End Hwang Debate

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[EDITORIALS]Seoul Should End Hwang Debate

The controversy over the proposed visit to the United States by Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of North Korea's Workers' Party and the highest-ranking North Korean to have defected to the South, is taking a weird twist. In general, the government and pro-government groups are opposed to Mr. Hwang's visit to Washington, while the opposition Grand National Party and the conservatives are in favor of it. Mr. Hwang expressed his strong attachment to the trip in his statement Monday.

We believe that it is time for Seoul to make a bold decision on the issue because a prolonged controversy will intensify the discord in our society and lead to a negative perception by Washington of the Korean government.

When three Republican lawmakers invited Mr. Hwang to testify before the U.S. Congress on the situation in North Korea, we expressed our position that Seoul should respect his own decision. The government said that it would let him go to the United States if the U.S. government guarantees the high-profile defector's personal safety and the Capitol Hill sends him an official invitation.

We believe that Seoul no longer has its case against Mr. Hwang's trip to Washington, as James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has pledged the U.S. government's guarantee of his personal security and the Representative Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has sent him an invitation. The government said that the defector does not want to visit Washington as strongly as he used to, but his firm determination to go has been reconfirmed by Monday's statement. When President Kim Dae-jung visited the United States in March, he promised to permit Mr. Hwang to make the trip.

We understand, of course, the government's unwillingness to let Mr. Hwang visit Washington. It is natural that the government is concerned about possible ripple effects that might occur if the defector tells U.S. lawmakers everything about the North's situation, particularly at a time when the soured relationship between Washington and Pyongyang is affecting the inter-Korean relations.

Nevertheless, the government has no legitimacy in its position that it will not let Mr. Hwang go to the United States. "It is dictators' logic that an individual's rights can be sacrificed for the sake of national interest," Mr. Hwang said in his statement. The government must not restrict his constitutional freedom of travel and expressions. Also, under the basic principle for Seoul-Washington coordination and information exchanges on inter-Korean issues, there is no reason to stop him from visiting the United States.

What we are really concerned about in the debate over his trip is that our society's propensity for bigoted dichotomy is reflected in it. Those who are in favor of the visit are denounced as anti-reunification elements, while opponents are condemned as pro-North leftists. Such schism does not help matters for the development of the nation and the inter-Korean relationship, and will even hamper them.

Therefore, the government should make a wise decision to conclude the issue early, at least in order to put an end to such exhaustive controversy. If such uncomfortable debate continues in the U.S. politics as well as in Korea, it would take a toll on our national image and may cause cracks in the the nation's cooperation with Washington. We request the administration not to consider too much of "Hwang Jang-yop factors" in its relationship with Pyongyang.

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