Winning the conservatives’ hearts

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Winning the conservatives’ hearts


Presidential candidates prepare for the second televised debate at KBS on April 19. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]

The biggest reason Koreans say they will vote for anyone but Moon Jae-in in the May 9 presidential election is because of his questionable stance on North Korea. The leading candidate knows this well. He carries around a photo of himself during his military service, clad in a SWAT uniform, and pitches himself as a “security president.”

But conservative voters are skeptical of his fundamental philosophy on security. He can hardly persuade them, no matter how much he claims to be a reliable defender of their security and shows off a picture of himself in a SWAT beret. When one of his conservative opponents, Yoo Seong-min, bluntly posed the question to him in a TV debate whether North Korea was the “main enemy” of the South, Moon stumbled to find an answer. He avoided a direct answer, saying that the comment was inappropriate for a president.

The Ministry of Defense avoids labeling its communist neighbor “the main enemy” in its white paper. But it defines the Pyongyang regime and military as its enemy.

If Moon aspires to become the next commander-in-chief of the South Korean military, he should have confidently said, “North Korea is our enemy in a military context.” He could have avoided political controversy by adding that North Korea is also a partner for dialogue. Former conservative presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, as well as Moon’s DP peers, have all referred to North Korea as “both an enemy and a partner.” Why Moon could not publicly agree to this only aggravated security doubts about him from the conservative population.

His former boss and president, Roh Moo-hyun, wanted to jettison the “main enemy” expression. Nam Jae-joon, then army chief of staff, recalled that President Roh one day in 2004 told him not to use the phrase “main enemy” during troop information and education sessions. He claimed he could not comply with the order when training troops who would be facing the enemy across the border everyday.

In his memoir, Moon proudly recalled that there was not a single military skirmish between the two Koreas under President Roh. It is true North Korea refrained from conventional sea or land provocations such as the artillery firing or planting land mines. But on Oct. 9, 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test, putting South and neighboring countries to the test.

Moon did not mention North Korea’s major provocation and security challenge. Either he has forgotten, or he does not think the nuclear test was a provocation aimed at South Korea.

His aides are equally questionable on the issue of North Korea nuclear. In a TV program, a senior member of his campaign team said the party was seriously concerned and strongly advised North Korea against carrying out a sixth nuclear test, as that would mean North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, might be interfering in the South Korean presidential election by benefiting the conservatives. Does this mean the DP is against North Korean nuclear test because of its ramifications on the election, as apposed to worrying about public safety? Should not the leading presidential candidate oppose North Korean nuclear tests because they threaten the lives and security of South Korean people?

Dealing with North Korea’s advances in nuclear weaponry over the course of five tests should be different than in the days of Roh, when it detonated a nuclear device for the first time. Yet Moon sticks to the same engagement policy, offering to reopen and expand the Kaesong inter-Korean industrial complex and resume the South Korean tourism program to Mt. Kumgang. We do not disagree with the theory that the nuclear problem should be solved through diplomacy instead means, and eventually, yes, we should resume inter-Korean ventures. But for now, stern actions are needed to stop North Korea’s weapons program through sanctions. The problem is, we cannot know whether Moon has the will to do so, or even the desire.

To prevent a U.S. pre-emptive attack on North Korea, Moon said he would call up North Korea and demand it to stop. He seems to naively believe Pyongyang would listen to a left-wing president. North Korea has never helped the DP. In fact, Pyongyang stunned the DP and the nation in mourning by conducting the second nuclear test just hours after it issued its condolences following the death of Roh in May 2009.

We do not doubt the sincerity on national security of a man who had been the chief of staff and head of the main opposition party. But his comments suggest Moon is overly naïve and idealistic on security perspectives and North Korea. The people are interested in his real thoughts, not a picture of his military days.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 21, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kang Chan-ho
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