[Viewpoint] Now it’s the VIP’s turn
When President Lee Myung-bak was about to stand at the podium for a toast at the special banquet on the last day of the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up.
President Lee’s presence on the diplomatic stage deserved the praise of foreign leaders. He smoothly carried out the second-largest international meeting after the United Nations General Assembly. As he presented the outcomes of the summit, a number of Korean and foreign reporters raised their hands for questions. He skillfully handled the news conference and made people laugh as he joked, “Who should I pick?”
He excelled even more in the bilateral meetings. In every meeting, he pushed the other leader to urge North Korea to abandon the long-range missile launch. Even President Hu Jintao of China, who had been taking sides with North Korea, advised Pyongyang to give up the satellite launch and focus on the domestic economy. The international community shared the same view.
He showed off his special relationships with other heads of states. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev told President Lee they must go to the Altai Mountains together. The region is especially significant for us because it is known as the origin of the Korean people. Altai is 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) away from the Kazakh capital of Astana. He felt so close to Korea that he wants to invite President Lee to the remote location together.
Clearly, however, that’s all for President Lee. The curtain is down on the diplomatic stage, and the time for home administration has returned. President Lee has said, “The President of the Republic of Korea may contend against foreign leaders over national interests, but as soon as he arrives at the Seoul Airport, he needs to worry about the cabbage price.” The public was alarmed because of the sudden rise of the cabbage price at the time. Diplomacy and home administration are two separate jobs, and no matter how good at diplomacy he is, he would fail if he cannot handle domestic administration.
Today, the hot issue is not the cabbage price but the unlawful inspection of civilians. At first, the controversial allegation involved the Prime Minister’s Office, the labor and employment office of the Blue House, and the so-called Yeongpo Line (the Yeongil-Pohang clan). Now, the Blue House Office of the Senior Secretary for Civil Affairs, the Office of the Chief of Staff and the VIP, which refers to the president himself, are mentioned in the case.
The case was initially about whether unlawful surveillance occurred or not, but the focus has shifted to whether there was pressure to reduce the case, whether those punished were offered money or jobs, and whether the president was informed about the inspection. The main issue can be judged by the law, but some of the points are rather ambiguous. Particularly, President Lee’s awareness of the case would lead to an ethical debate.
President Lee has not been demanded to explain his stance. He has been asked hundreds of questions in the last six weeks since the news conference marking the fourth anniversary of the inauguration on Feb. 22. There have been so many other political and diplomatic issues in the mean time, but it also means that the surveillance controversy is so volatile that the Blue House’s involvement should happen soon.
President Lee will be asked about the illegal civilian surveillance over and over again. If his answer is not clear enough, the same questions will be repeated. With two elections slated for this year, not just politicians but also an entire nation may fight over the answers from President Lee. Naturally, state administrations will be neglected. It is the last thing President Lee wants, as he proclaimed that he would be working until his last day. So he needs to give sincere answers and try to resolve the controversy. He should be determined to expose what really happened.
Two days before the Nuclear Security Summit, he personally visited the COEX auditorium. It was the venue where over 50 state leaders would line up in four rows for official photographs. He surveyed the venue so thoroughly that the staff asked him to trust them. Thanks to his meticulous attention, the Nuclear Security Summit concluded in success. Now, it’s time to discuss the surveillance incident.
*The author is deputy editor of political news of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Ko Jung-ae