[OUTLOOK]Rumors can take on life of their own

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[OUTLOOK]Rumors can take on life of their own

At a recent meeting with an influential lawmaker of the ruling Millennium Democratic Party, the lawmaker told me an interesting story that he heard.

A while ago, Kwon Roh-gap, the former senior adviser to the ruling party, reportedly called his son, Jeong-min, in Seattle, Washington, and told him to be prepared to run in the general election as a lawmaker from Mokpo. Mokpo is the electoral district of the lawmaker Kim Hong-il, President Kim Dae-jung's eldest son. It seems that Mr. Kwon is trying to win the district from the president's son. If that is true, it is extremely sensitive and shocking information.

I checked out that story with Mr. Kwon. "That is absurd!" he said. "Jeong-min soon will begin studying for an MBA at either Harvard or MIT."

I checked on that, too, and it turned out to be true. Mr. Kwon's son was no longer living in Seattle. He had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and was working at General Electric. He has a master's degree in material engineering, and will soon start studying business management, encouraged by his father.

The rumor was not true, but there are other rumors; one of them said Mr. Kwon threatened someone. After all, many rumors pointed at the same theme - the conflict between Mr. Kwon and President Kim. My task was to find out if such a conflict actually existed. I asked Mr. Kwon, "Have you ever had a conflict with President Kim?"

"Not at all," Mr. Kwon said.

"But you declined President Kim's request that you take an overseas trip for a long time," I said.

"He never asked me to do that," Mr. Kwon said.

"Didn't Park Ji-won, the former Blue House chief secretary, deliver such message?" I asked

"That information is wrong. It never happened."

All of his answers were different from the rumors. I met one of his close aides who told me another story. According to him, it seemed right that Mr. Park had encouraged Mr. Kwon to leave Korea for some time. Of course, Mr. Park let Mr. Kwon know that the recommendation was based on President Kim's wishes. But that was all, nothing more.

President Kim reportedly made no further demands. The rumor that Mr. Kwon had met with the president was also groundless. Mr. Kwon was afraid that the president would telephone him, because then he would not be able to reject the request. But there was no call. Finally, Mr. Kwon realized what has been going on beneath the surface. I could also understand why Mr. Kwon said he was never asked to leave the country for a long period of time. The Donggyo-dong faction, devotees of the president from his opposition period, also supported my speculation. "As far as I know, the president is in no position to demand that Mr. Kwon leave the country," the lawmaker Lee Hoon-pyung of the ruling party said. "People know nothing."

Another lawmaker, Kim Ok-doo, provided a similar opinion. The relationship between President Kim and Mr. Kwon is inseparable, they said. There have been no forcible demands nor rejections of such demands.

The opposition Grand National Party shared the same opinion. "President Kim and Mr. Kwon share a strong bond and there is no need for words between them," Ha Soon-bong, a vice president of the opposition party, said. Choe Byung-yul, another vice president, agreed. It seemed that there is no noticeable trouble between the president and Mr. Kwon. They said Mr. Kwon would play the role of the president's agent behind the political scene.

So where did the rumor about their conflict come from?

Some said the intention was to show the public that the president has removed his hands from the political machinery. Indeed, that will make it easier for the president to avoid criticism from the opposition party. At this point, we need to think back on who had first brought up this idea of a conflict. The origin of the rumor was the influential politicians of the ruling party. Was this a set-up to persuade the people that Mr. Kwon's move shares no connection to the president?

Whether President Kim took his hands off or not, the opposition seems to hold him in the ring in order to maintain the political structure of pro-Kim Dae-jung against anti-Kim Dae-jung.


The writer is a staff writer on political affairs of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Yeon-hong

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