Lee says unity is more critical than strength

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Lee says unity is more critical than strength

President Lee Myung-bak urged the nation yesterday to unite against North Korea’s provocations, warning that Pyongyang will take advantage of divisions among South Koreans no matter how strong is the country’s military power.

Lee’s remarks came as liberal and conservative politicians bitterly squabbled over the military’s drill near the Yeonpyeong Island. After the plan was announced last week, the main opposition Democratic Party repeatedly demanded the government cancel the drill.

“What North Korea really wants is to see division and our opinions unaligned,” Lee said during a meeting with the Ministry of Government Administration and Public Security on its 2011 agenda. “No matter how strong our defense capabilities are, the North will try to take advantage of our disunity.”

“Strong national security means more than a strong military,” Lee said. “The best national security is the united power of the people.”

Lee said the administration’s goal is to improve the quality of life of the people, vowing to value life and human rights, strengthen the welfare system, prevent natural disasters and firmly defend the country from North Korea’s provocations to maintain peace on the peninsula.

Lee also ordered all public servants yesterday morning to maintain their emergency readiness, Blue House spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said. “Lee gave the order after he was briefed by Presidential Chief of Staff Yim Tae-hee,” she said. “The president did not say much, but we could feel his strong will.”

“For a divided country, it’s natural to conduct a military drill to defend its territory as a sovereign state,” Lee was quoted as saying by his public affairs senior secretary. “No one else has a say in this. We must also be fully ready for a possible provocation from the North after the drill.”

Earlier in the morning, Lee stressed the country’s efforts to defend its security. During the Justice Ministry’s reporting session, Lee said, “As a divided country, we need special efforts to protect our nation’s identity while developing the economy.”

The Blue House and the military have defended yesterday’s drill from criticism by saying it was necessary to demonstrate national sovereignty. They have also said the drill was a routine exercise.

Democratic Party Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu disagreed. “It’s not wise to have a competition of ego-demonstration with an abnormal country,” Sohn said. He urged Lee “to not expect the North to make a reasonable judgment.”

“I respect the military’s right to operate near the Yeonpyeong Island, but this drill is not a matter of national sovereignty, but a matter of the Korean people’s life and safety,” Sohn said.

The conservative opposition Liberty Forward Party condemned the Democrats’ opposition as a cowardly show of defeatism.

“This drill is not just another military exercise,” Lee Hoi-chang, LFP head, said yesterday. “It is the demonstration of our strong determination not to accept the North’s repeated arms provocations, including the Cheonan’s sinking and the Yeonpyeong Island shelling. We must never stop it.”

Lee also criticized Sohn for having been used by Pyongyang. “North Korea made threats to stir up such defeatism and fear of war in the South, and the head of the country’s largest opposition party has fell for it,” Lee said. “If you are a political leader, you must not fall into weak defeatism. You should try to unite the country.” Meanwhile, the ruling Grand National and opposition Democratic parties agreed yesterday to hold a meeting of the National Defense and Foreign Affairs committees this week. Sources said Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin will brief the lawmakers on the Defense Committee today about yesterday’s drill and the North Korean military’s response. Lawmakers from the rival parties are expected to clash with each other over the legitimacy of the live fire exercise at the committee meetings.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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