The DP’s fundamentalist fringeAfter the U.S. Congress ratified the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement last week, the opposition camp’s voice against the pact has become even louder. Lawmakers from opposition parties refused to confer and instead occupied the conference room of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee at the National Assembly to block further discussion of the ratification of the bill.
With the Seoul mayoral by-election imminent, they have intensified their efforts to thwart the trade deal. The opposition will predictably force the ruling Grand National Party to railroad the bill through and then seek the public’s sympathy in the general and presidential elections next year.
Opposition to the FTA is led by the Democratic Labor Party and hardcore members of the main opposition Democratic Party. Former DP chairman Chung Dong-young, who championed the trade deal during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, is fueling the opposition by comparing the trade pact to the disgraceful annexation treaty forced on us by imperial Japan in 1905. Moderates - including current DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu and floor leader Kim Jin-pyo - are reluctant to make a rational decision faced with the prevailing anti-FTA mood in the party.
Against this backdrop, DP bigwigs have come up with remarkably different views on the pact. South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung, a top aide to the late president Roh, said in a speech to farmers that the FTA is an “unavoidable task for us.”
Han Duck-soo, a prime minister under the Roh administration, stressed that the Lee Myung-bak administration’s renegotiation of the FTA last year was a small adjustment for a bigger gain, adding that all of Korea’s automakers back the trade deal. He said the Lee administration could not say no to a renegotiation after Korea’s car exports to the U.S. more than doubled for two years since both governments signed the deal.
Moon Jae-in, Roh’s chief secretary, is also against lopsided opposition to the FTA, although he says the renegotiation failed to achieve entirely reciprocal results. Park Joon-yung, South Jeolla governor, enthusiastically supported the Yeongsan river redevelopment project - a part of the four-rivers restoration project - after carefully listening to his constituents’ views, despite hard-line opponents branding him a “renegade.” The DP was once a ruling party. It should not be dragged down by the fundamentalist fringe if it wants to be seen as a responsible party.