Critical voices are needed too

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Critical voices are needed too

Critics of Pyongyang and defectors from North Korea are said to be receiving disadvantages or even being removed from office under the liberal government known for its détente policy towards Pyongyang. The case raises concerns for balanced views on North Korea and the freedom of expression.

David Straub, the former head of the division of Korean Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, did not get his fellowship renewed at the Sejong Institute, a nonpartisan policy think tank on foreign and security affairs. The think tank explained he was contracted for a year and that his leave is unrelated to his criticism towards the government’s engaging policy towards Pyongyang. Another professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy who had been critical of North Korea also resigned to move to a private institute.

North Korean defectors seemingly have been censored. Ahn Chan-il, head of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, has been banned from a television program for a month after he referred to Kim Yo-jong — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister — as “that woman.” Thae Yong-ho, formerly North Korean deputy ambassador to the U.K., who defected to South Korea in 2016, is no longer invited to lectures or other public activities.

It is understandable that Seoul wants to avoid annoying Pyongyang ahead of the April 27 inter-Korean summit. But in order for its policy to work, the government must open its ears to various voices on North Korea. A policy could turn too idealistic if only people with similar ideas work on it. It must not discourage criticism towards the regime’s human rights violations and manipulating behaviors. These voices can help Seoul’s negotiating power.

The president cannot push ahead with its rapprochement policy if it does not gain support from the people. Many conservatives believe the government is too soft towards Pyongyang. The Blue House must not brush aside their concerns.

A Blue House official expressed a “strong” complaint regarding the JoongAng Ilbo report about sanctions on foreign and security professors and said it will take “appropriate actions” after a thorough examination of the facts. We welcome its fact-finding. But if it aims to suppress criticism, the Blue House is undermining freedom of press.

The hard-won reconciliatory momentum could be wasted if it loses public support. Maintaining balance is important to seek a peaceful and lasting solution to the North Korean nuclear problem.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 5, Page 30
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