[NINTH ASIA-EUROPE PRESS FORUM]Better ties to North needed...Once again, much focus is on the Korean Peninsula with the recent reporting of the unidentified blast in Yanggang province, North Korea, and the uranium and plutonium experiments by South Korea.
As this society’s leaders, we have the obligation to explain about these developments. We also have the responsibility to present before you our policies on North Korea and our vision in this region.
Before this, however, I would like to provide some background on Korea’s latest political progress and the direction of the ruling Uri Party.
The general elections held in April of this year opened a new chapter in Korean parliamentary history. For the first time in our political history, the reformist power became a single majority in the National Assembly. Unprecedentedly, there was a genuine transfer of power, and for the first time in 40 years there was a change in the political mainstream.
As a result, there are significant changes taking place in Korean politics, and the Uri Party is taking the lead in opening a new political trend.
I must say that there are people that have a misunderstanding of the Uri Party. We’ve been accused of being a leftist government or that we are against market principles. I would like to take this opportunity to say that this is mere political rhetoric by our political opponents.
The Uri Party is one that embodies a traditional democratic power. As a new mainstream in Korean politics, the Uri Party represents a sound and rational reformist force, which will put an end to the political confrontation and conflicts of the past.
Through a more efficient distribution of resources, our economy will advance into one that is more market oriented and friendly. At the same time, I should point out the Uri Party and the participatory government has been consistently pursuing from the beginning the increase of transparency and efficiency in the market economy, the revitalization of investment, and advancement of a better labor-management relationship.
Korean society is currently undergoing growing pains ― it is being reborn to leap forward from one era to the next. An illustration of this is the latest debate on our effort to re-examine our history and to abolish the National Security Law.
The Korean people suffered immensely for 36 years through the colonialization of their land, a fratricidal war, and long reigning authoritarian regimes. Our painful past left irreversible scars which created divisions that today have become hindrances to our national unity.
We must bring to light the real truth of our past. We must reconcile with our past. And we must forgive our past. This is the only way to realize national unity, and the only way to move forward to a brighter and prosperous future.
The National Security Law is a prime example of a leftover of our past. It was utilized as a tool for the authoritarian regime to hold on to power. Not only was it used to carry out human rights violations and abuses but also as a legal instrument to destroy our national identity.
Needless to say, in tune with the post Cold War global environment and current security atmosphere reflecting inter-Korean relations, the National Security Law must be abolished. And to eliminate any sense of uneasiness or concern by the people, the Uri Party will expeditiously provide supplementary provisions to existing criminal laws or provide new legislation that will deal with the concerns.
Since the launching of President Roh Moo-hyun’s government a year and a half ago, we have been pursuing a policy of peace and prosperity toward the North, exerting continued efforts toward improving relations with them.
As a result, there have been more dialogue and exchanges between the two sides. This year alone there were a total of 25 South-North talks at different levels and areas. The number of South Koreans that visited the North totaled 16 thousand. This does not include the 74 thousand South Korean tourists that went on the Mount Geumgang tour. Moreover, the total amount of trade volume, which only reached $13 million in 1990, now stands at $800 million.
We are also continuing our humanitarian support for the North. The total volume of humanitarian aid to North Korea last year reached $87 million. The reunion of dispersed families in the two Koreas is an important humanitarian work; this project now takes place on a regular basis. But one of the most notable accomplishments in South-North cooperation since the armistice that took place in 1953 is the meeting of higher military officers held earlier this year. In this meeting, the two sides agreed on measures to begin building trust. They also agreed to take precautionary measures to prevent conflicts in the West Sea and to stop activities slandering each other in the Demilitarized Zone region.
At the moment, the relationship is undergoing a quiet period: As you may know, the North Korean refugee problem, Seoul’s decision not to approve travel permit for those that wanted to attend a memorial service in North Korea, the latest human rights bill on North Korea in the U.S. House of Representatives are the reasons. Pyeongyang has postponed a number of dialogues and exchanges.
Recently there has been much controversy about nuclear experiments conducted by some South Korean scientists. The international community and neighboring countries reacted sensitively, and frankly, the international media played a role in distorting some of the facts.
The facts are crystal clear ― the Republic of Korea never had nor will develop a nuclear arms program, and has never carried out a plutonium extraction nor HEU [highly enriched uranium] program for military purposes. As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, the Republic of Korea has been actively supporting non-proliferation efforts around the world and the peaceful use of atomic energy, and has been earnestly observing our obligations in this regard including safety measures by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
* Excerpts from a speech Tuesday by Lee Bu-young, chairman of the Uri Party, at the Asia-Europe Press Forum 2004 in Seoul.
by Lee Bu-young