[Viewpoint]Fractured peaceThere is a rumor that Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo will be dismissed right after the second round of the South-North Korean summit meeting in early October.
The rumor says that the reason is friction between Kim and Blue House staff members that was created in the course of the discussion on the issue of the Northern Limit Line, or NLL, in the Yellow Sea.
The truth of the rumor has not yet been confirmed.
However, a file of proofs that make it sound quite plausible is attached to the theory.
The content of the attached file is that a serious conflict has arisen between Kim and the Blue House, over the course of three episodes:
1) Episode 1, July 19
The national security-related ministers’ meeting was held at the Blue House.
It was called to discuss the issues of a joint fishing area and the NLL in the Yellow Sea, which were included in the agenda for the sixth round of the South-North Korean general level meeting, held on July 24.
The trouble started when it was Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo’s turn to speak.
Minister Kim is said to have raised his voice, saying, “Why does the Ministry of Unification behave as if the NLL issue is under its jurisdiction?”
He practically criticized Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung, who was also present at the meeting.
They say the Blue House, which was not so pleased with the Defense Ministry’s inflexible position on the NLL issue, has started to make Kim’s remark at the meeting an issue.
This is why the rumor of his replacement started to circulate.
2) Episode 2, Aug. 18
A national security-related ministers’ meeting was held at the Blue House, but Minister Kim was not present. General Kim Kwan-jin, the Navy chief of staff and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended in his place. Minister Kim did not attend because of an eye infection.
More trouble took place three days later, on Aug. 21. At the National Security Committee of the National Assembly, Minister Kim testified firmly, “The Northern Limit Line is a substantial national border.”
He added, “It is proper to discuss the issue at the inter-Korean summit meeting when the grounds for an agreement between the two sides are consolidated through working-level talks, including the inter-Korean ministerial talks, in which both sides have had ample consultations on the issue.”
He made it clear that he did not think it proper to discuss the NLL issue as an agenda item for the second round of the South-North Korean summit meeting.
He also retorted head-on to the statement by Lee Jae-joung, minister of national unification, that, “The Northern Limit Line is not a concept of territorial borders but one of security.”
It is said that some officials at the Blue House were again upset at Kim’s remarks.
On top of that, it was revealed that the sixth round of the South-North Korean general level meeting had broken down.
Although North Korea presented a proposed new Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea at the meeting, the Ministry of National Defense insisted on keeping the existing limit. This led to the breakdown.
This fueled rumors that Minister Kim would be held responsible for the failure of the meeting.
3) Episode 3, at the beginning of September.
They say that the issue of whether Minister Kim should be included in the presidential entourage to the second round of the inter-Korean summit meeting in Pyongyang from Oct. 2 till Oct. 4 was the cause of yet more trouble.
Aides at the Blue House and the government decided that Minister Kim should be included in the entourage to the meeting.
It is said that they maintained a solid position that Minister Kim had to go to Pyongyang to participate in the discussions on the establishment of a peace system on the Korean Peninsula, including the NLL issue.
However, Minister Kim had a different opinion.
He wanted to dispatch the Navy chief of staff and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his place.
It is said that he thought the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was fully qualified to be present at the meeting because as the head of the South-North Korean Joint Military Committee, he was in full command of the inter-Korean military talks.
It is also said that Minister Kim pointed out that it was unprecedented from the perspective of military preparedness that the president, the military supreme commander, and the minister of national defense, who holds military command and administrative authority as delegated by the president, leave the country simultaneously.
In the end, Minister Kim has been included in the presidential entourage against his persuasive argument. This made the rumor of Minister Kim’s dismissal sound even more convincing.
Nowadays, even the names of his possible successors are being mentioned along with the rumors of his dismissal.
They say there is a plan to appoint a high-ranking government official, whose name is not yet officially known, as the minister of defense right after the summit meeting, and let him lead the inter-Korean defense ministers’ meeting.
There is also a rumor that a general in the reserves was considered first, but attention was turned to the high-ranking official in question because the reservist general was a member of the military officers’ club created by former President Chun Doo Hwan.
There are possibilities that these rumors are groundless.
Actually, they should be unfounded.
We should think seriously about a situation in which many people disagree if a minister who sticks to his beliefs on an important national security issue is made to resign just because he did not share the opinion of Blue House aides.
The peace system on the Korean Peninsula, which is directly related to national security, should be pursued on the basis of the people’s consensus.
That is the only way to get rid of the confrontational structure between Seoul and Pyongyang.
*The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Chul-hee