[Viewpoint] Which state do you serve?Since the founding of the South Korean government in 1948, a total of 41 prime ministers have served the country. Many of them have good reputations. Lee Beom-seok, the country’s first prime minister, fought against the Japanese Imperial Army as a commander of the Independence Movement Army. Some were famous for meticulous self-management. Goh Kun, who served as prime minister twice, enjoyed drinking, but never publicly got drunk.
Of the 41, two stepped down in disgrace. Park Tae-joon came under fire for possessing several properties with borrowed names. That was more than a decade ago. The most recent prime minister to fall from grace was Lee Hae-chan. While serving as prime minister under President Roh Moo-hyun, Lee played golf in Busan on March 1, 2006, Independence Day, with a local businessman. The businessman was at the time under investigation by the Fair Trade Commission for collusion. He was fined 3.5 billion won ($2.9 million) the day after he played golf with the prime minister.
The president and prime minister can play golf on their days off. American presidents even play a few holes to ease stress during wartime. But the sport can be a problem depending on who the government leaders choose to play with. American presidents usually play the game with vice presidents, aides or close friends. They rarely socialize with businessmen on the golf course. Four months before the scandalous golf outing, Lee went on a Middle East tour. The businessman, who was among the entourage, was said to have ordered boxes of golf balls imprinted with the Blue House phoenix logo commemorating Lee’s Middle East tour. Lee should have known then to keep his distance.
Lee was elected as the head of the main opposition Democratic United Party. He recently found himself in hot water for controversial comments and actions. He said it would be meddling with internal affairs of another country to raise questions on human rights issues in opposing the ruling party’s motion on legislative action toward human rights abuses in North Korea.
He hung up the phone during an interview with YTN radio when the host kept asking his opinion on the North Korean human rights issue and a rant student activist-turned-politician Lim Soo-kyung made to a North Korean defector. He later said he was unhappy that the radio program host asked questions beyond the list of questions they arranged previously. One way or another, his return to the political central stage raises concerns because he could aggravate the conflict. He already declared a challenge to the ruling Saenuri Party and conservative media.
In his acceptance speech, Lee said “Saenuri and [party presidential hopeful] Park Geun-hye are waging an ideological attack and even raising questions about the eligibility of someone who has served as prime minister.” But during his proud days in his premiership, he raised an uproar by demanding abolishment of the National Security Law which he defined as “evil.” He ordered strong police action to dissuade street rallies by conservative groups defending the security law that regulates an unwarranted association with North Korea. He left office after the scandalous golf game.
South Korea shares a border with the world’s most precarious communist state. The prime minister of such a conflict-prone country must have a staunch view on security and human rights. Someone in a high position should be aware how important the security law is to protect the country from North Korea. Moreover, enhancement of human rights is today a universal value the global community pursues and upholds.
The United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights following World War II, demanding all member states promote universal respect and human rights. The UN human rights subcommittee in 1998 adopted a resolution demanding apologies and reparation from
Japan on the atrocities of sexual slavery the Japanese military committed during the war. It has recently condemned human rights abuses in Egypt, Libya and Syria. But no one deems the UN actions as interfering with domestic affairs of other nations.
Lee Hae-chan is a veteran politician, having served six terms in the legislature and as a member and head of the cabinet. He wronged a state that has only treated him well. He brought disgrace to prime ministers that came before him. He has confused the public on the issue of North Korean human rights and security law. Lee has a hot temper. He cut off the phone interview because he was displeased with the question about the state of human rights in North Korea. Somehow he hardly raised his voice on North Korea’s Kim dynastic family. I wonder which state he serves.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin
by Kim Jin