[Viewpoint] Disingenuous Chung Dong-young

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[Viewpoint] Disingenuous Chung Dong-young

Hearings at the National Assembly have been the sight of some memorable political scenes over the years.

In one particularly remarkable event in December 1989, former President Roh Moo-hyun, who was then a novice legislator, was the center of attention. Former President Chun Doo Hwan appeared at a hearing exploring his heavy-handedness in the 1980 Gwangju massacre. Chun maintained that his actions had been justified by the constitutional right of defense.

At the hearing, opposition party members were outraged when their ruling counterparts domineeringly cried order in the room. In response, Roh Moo-hyun threw his nameplate down onto the floor - an action many remember as a heartfelt challenge to military dictatorship and authority.

I have been a strong critic of Roh. I could not forgive him for muddling up state governance. A state leader should keep his head cool, but he did not.

But, still, I do not deny his warm heart. In order to honor his memory, I twice visited the cliff where he jumped to his death. To me, the nameplate throwing incident underscored Roh’s purity in political passion.

Such purity cannot spout from ulterior motives, but only from genuineness and sincerity that has brewed over a long time. True to his values, Roh spent much of his life fighting for human and dissident rights as a self-educated defense lawyer for labor and student activists.

Another notable show at a parliamentary hearing grabbed my attention more recently. In a hearing on the Hanjin Heavy Industries labor dispute, Democratic Party Representative Chung Dong-young suddenly took out his mobile phone and called Kim Jin-suk, a labor activist who has been staging a sit-in on top of a crane at the Hanjin shipyard in Busan since January.

He put the phone on speaker mode and called upon his legislative peers to listen to her. But, ruling Grand National Party members vehemently refused to hear out an “illegal” demonstrator who has resisted parliamentary summons. The phone testimony did not take place, and the hearing went into recess. To many, Chung did not appear to have pure motivations because his past, unlike Roh’s, does not necessarily show a commitment to labor activists.

Soon after Chun Doo Hwan gained power through a coup d’etat and bloody crackdown on democratization movements, he went on an overseas tour in 1982 to build his authority. He visited four African countries in a move that could only be considered a political showcase.

Chung, then a reporter for MBC, appeared on a special news program devoted to the president’s African trip. Chung said the president was opening up a “Pacific era” through the tour and also said the visit would help boost the morale of the Korean community in Africa. But, did he naively believe that the Koreans in Africa would openly welcome Chun, completely oblivious to the tragedy of Gwangju?

I do not want to scold the journalist Chung for sucking up to an authoritative regime. It can be difficult for a member of the elite intelligentsia to keep himself clean in a tumultuous historic trajectory. And, there have been many who, even after falling into muddy pits, managed to keep to their original path.

Chung gave infinite satisfaction to the public as a popular anchor on primetime television. Intelligentsia Chung could therefore be forgiven.

But as a political leader, Chung cannot be as easily passed. He vowed to serve the country and ran as a candidate for the ruling party to succeed Roh. He should explain his transformation from an advocate for a dictator into a labor activist.

A leader who aspired to become president must see things in a broad and far-sighted context. Chung should have sat down quietly and contemplated on the community’s common path. He should have thought thoroughly on the nation’s shipping industry in the face of a strong rivalry from China, especially the fate of thousands of Hanjin Heavy Industries employees should the shipbuilder collapse as well as the extent of tolerance allowable for illegal protests.

Chung condemned the chairman of Hanjin Heavy Industries, Cho Nam-ho, as a murderer. Such a tirade would have been tolerated from a political neophyte, but not from a former presidential candidate.

If he had been the president, would Chung have personally called Kim and encouraged her “bravery?” If an illegal protestor is a hero, what are the other people who manage to live obeying the law?

I hate to imagine what shape the country would have been in if he were president.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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