[Viewpoint] Time for some fact-checking from DUP

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[Viewpoint] Time for some fact-checking from DUP

After chairing a trade committee on August 11, 2004, then-President Roh Moo-hyun decided to push ahead with a free trade agreement with the United States, describing it as “irrefutably necessary.” He reached that conclusion upon learning that 193 FTAs had been signed worldwide, and that over 50 percent of global trade volume is generated from FTA-bound economies. As international trade accounted for more than 70 percent of Korea’s total gross domestic product, it was clear that Seoul also needed to get in on the act.

But Han Myeong-sook, who served as the final prime minister under Roh, insists that the treaty should be renegotiated because “circumstances have changed.” Han, who now serves as head of the main opposition Democratic United Party, proclaimed that the DUP will scrap the treaty if it comes to power after winning the April legislative elections and December presidential race. But she has not explained how the circumstantial differences -- such as the global financial crises and backlashes against neo-liberalism -- require them to scrap the signed and ratified free trade deal.

When negotiations hit a bottleneck in March 2007 under the Roh administration, then-Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan told then-trade minister Kim Hyun-chong, “The Korea-U.S. FTA must be realized because it is the top priority on the state agenda. We would then be able to push ahead with a North Korea-U.S. meeting and an inter-Korean summit. The final stage is a four-nation summit among the two Koreas, the U.S. and China to discuss lasting peace.”

Lee’s remarks meant that for the Roh administration, the Korea-U.S. FTA was the starting point for normalization of the Korean Peninsula. In other words, it sought to achieve the ultimate goal of “peace on the peninsula” by solidifying Korea-U.S relations through two axes: security and the economy.

Though the grand vision of the Roh administration stopped at his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, a strategy of realizing peace on the peninsula through solid ties with the U.S. still remains valid.

But Han, who claims to be a devout Roh loyalist, does not seem to grasp the vision behind the FTA.

Han and the DUP seek to scrap the Rho administration’s strategy, arguing that circumstances have changed. In his memoir, former Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong revealed behind-the-scenes stories and details of the Korus FTA talks. If Han and her party read the book, which was published in October 2010, they could not have written a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama — as they recently did — using such baseless logic and huffy, anti-American tones. If the letter was not motivated by anti-U.S. sentiment, is the DUP afflicted with a victim mentality? In other words, is the opposition camp preoccupied with the simple idea that Korea will have more losses than gains in negotiations conducted in English?

Trade Minister Kim’s testimony shows that it was the Korean delegation that had the upper hand in the FTA talks. In writing up the specific terms, they managed to squeeze out as many benefits for Korea as was realistically possible. I strongly urge the DUP to closely look at each of the 10 articles which it claims should be renegotiated with the U.S. by carefully reading Kim’s description of the discussions. If it has reason to believe that he is mistaken or lying, Kim could be invited to verify the facts behind his written description. It will be never too late for Han and the DUP to renegotiate with the U.S. after making all those efforts. Otherwise, they will hardly be free from the criticism that they oppose the FTA for the sake of anti-Americanism and have to pay a heavy price.

I am dumbfounded at the audacity of the party’s decision to send what basically amounted to an ultimatum to the U.S. president – a half-baked warning based on the premise that they will take power after winning the legislative and presidential elections later this year. Where does such hardcore arrogance come from? Have the DUP’s politics of hatred paralyzed its ability to think clearly and rationally? Do they vehemently oppose the trade pact without knowing it is the best way to ratchet up our economy and further strengthen our ties with the United States? If it’s the latter case, they must present their strategies to achieve lasting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula amid extremely volatile and fragile inter-Korean relations, not to mention the rapid rise of China as a regional superpower.

Americans will not agree to a renegotiation. Therefore, if the DUP does win the upcoming elections and scraps the deal as it has vowed, Korea-U.S. ties could be fatally impaired. And that -- to quote Victor Cha, a professor of government at Georgetown University and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- would be like giving China an early Christmas present. Is the opposition ignorant of the fact that a trade deal with the U.S. is the most effective card in persuading Beijing to draw up a similar pact with Seoul?

Many people are disappointed and enraged by President Lee’s misgovernment. Yet vehement opposition to Lee’s foreign policies is nothing but a suicidal move for the DUP. It is also an unwise move that will inflict a great amount of pain on ordinary Koreans.

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