No mixed messages on North

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No mixed messages on North

The liberal camp hopes Park Won-soon can defeat the candidate from the conservative ruling party in the Oct. 26 Seoul mayoral by-election, but Park has come under fire for a comment he made about North Korea. When asked by speakers at a debate hosted by a group of veteran journalists on Monday about his thoughts on the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March last year, Park blamed the government for provoking Pyongyang.

Especially in South Korea, a politician’s views on North Korea tend to serve as a yardstick for the broader ideological stance of the group they represent. This is natural in a society with such a deep-seated sensitivity over ideology amid constant threats from the Communist North.

As the mayor of Seoul is responsible for the safety as well as the well-being of the capital and its 10 million citizens, voters are entitled to know exactly what views aspiring candidates have on North Korea.

But Park’s views on national security have long come under question. As an anti-government civilian activist and human rights lawyer, he has been quite progressive on North Korean affairs. He demanded that the government scrap the National Security Law and has condemned North Korean spy cases as fabrications and conspiracies. The outspoken organization he founded - the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) - even sent a letter to the United Nations questioning the credibility of the findings of an international investigation into the Cheonan sinking, much to the chagrin of the government.

Park’s comments during Monday’s debate were quite confounding. At first he hailed as credible a government report that the Cheonan was sunk by North Koreans. He also said that he left the PSPD almost a decade ago and should not be associated with its pro-North Korean actions regarding the Cheonan.

But then he added that the government had provoked North Korea into actions that led to the deaths of the young South Korean sailors. His comments strongly indicate that he believes the government is responsible for the North’s brutal attack. He appeared to be oblivious to what North Korea is capable of. Despite all the benefits, aid and generosity given it by the Kim Dae-jung administration, the North has raised two deadly skirmishes over the maritime border.

Park must clarify his security stance and his recent remarks. Nothing short of complete honesty will be acceptable.

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