Give Hong a seat at the table
*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The members of the Moon Jae-in administration who prepared the April 27 inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom are flooded with endorphins. They are proud of creating an atmosphere of peace on the peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un admitted to President Moon that he wants to start new things, but elderly members of his government are stopping him. Kim reportedly confessed to Moon that he prefers the Vietnamese model of development for rapid growth while maintaining friendship with the United States. That could be a signal that Kim trusts Moon.
Some are now comparing U.S. President Donald Trump — who is about to have a historic U.S.-North Korean summit in the coming weeks — to the Wanli Emperor of the Ming dynasty of China, who sent reinforcement forces to Joseon (1392-1910) to interrupt the Japanese invasion of Korea in the late 16th century. Trump forced North Korea to the denuclearization table through strong sanctions that even included China and military threats. He is now being lauded as a possible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize together with Moon and Kim.
After Moon said, “President Trump should receive the Nobel Peace Prize and we can just have peace,” Trump wrote, “Peace is the prize,” on his Facebook. Right now, Moon’s approval rating is over 80 percent. It is no wonder that the Moon administration officials are flooded with endorphins.
But we should never lower our guard. Until we accomplish the goal of complete denuclearization, permanent peace and drastic improvement of inter-Korean relations, land mines are everywhere. Even on the day of the inter-Korean summit, we have seen an alarming sign. Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae and floor leader Woo Won-shik of the ruling Democratic Party were invited to the dinner after the two Korean leaders’ announcement of the Panmunjom Declaration, but no heads of opposition parties were invited. The North reportedly complained about the absence of leaders from the conservative parties, including Hong Joon-pyo, head of the Liberty Korea Party. The North Koreans wanted to network with leaders of the opposition parties and next-generation politicians to prepare for the future.
Even if he was invited, Hong would have not attended because he cursed the summit as an “unprecedented show of disguised peace.” But even his party members are criticizing him for making “irresponsible remarks” and throwing a cold shower on people’s expectations.
The risk was high that he would have made a radical comment at the dinner. And yet, the Blue House should have invited him for the symbolism that he was the chairman of the largest opposition party. North Korea even prepared a scenario that Kim would just laugh even if Hong asked him a hostile question or made harsh remarks.
It is unnatural for Moon to ask for bipartisan cooperation to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration. If Hong had been invited to the dinner, drank a toast with Kim and shared some words of blessings, he would not have been able to label the current situation as madness. “If the conservative opposition parties attended the dinner, it would have barred them from opposing the outcome of the summit in the future,” a North Korean official said. The Blue House should have contemplated this more deeply than the North.
South Korea is a democratic country with pluralistic values and a five-year, single-term presidency. The ruling and opposition parties have different ideologies and goals but have coexisted and governed one after another. The system’s strength is that wisdom from different areas, that is necessary to protect and manage the country, can be implemented. With power that does not exist in Pyongyang’s hereditary dictatorship, South Korea accomplished democratization and industrialization at the same time, and it enjoys overwhelming prosperity over the North.
It is clearly wrong to bypass the head of the largest opposition party, who should have been the key to cooperation when the war has shifted to peace. It has nothing to do with having a good feeling toward Hong or not. It is a narrow-minded act that rejects the functioning systems of democracy.
Moon has expertly played his role as a mediator between North Korea and the United States far beyond expectations. From now on, he must show the same leadership in resolving conflict inside the South. It is a must for his success. To this end, he must issue fair evaluations of the accomplishments of conservative governments and leaders. The July 4 inter-Korean Joint Declaration in 1972 was the first agreement between the two Koreas since national division on the three principles of unification — independence, peace and grand national unity.
It was then-President Park Chung Hee who sent his confidant Lee Hu-rak to then-North Korean leader Kim Il Sung — who had sent 31 armed soldiers to assassinate Park — to create this historic agreement.
President Roh Tae-woo was also a conservative leader, but he managed to agree on the 1991 Basic Agreement between the two Koreas and the joint declaration of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Roh, who was a former military general, asked Unification Minister Lee Hong-koo, who was a Seoul National University professor at the time, to create the first unification formula in 1989 and to reflect the opinions of the three opposition leaders — Kim Dae-jung, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil to complete it.
When President Moon admits to the contributions of the conservatives, he will see the justification for all sides to unite beyond ideologies.
It will be an act of serious self-injury if Moon excludes the opposition parties and the conservatives. If he fails to resolve the internal conflicts, how can he talk about reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas?
The Moon administration must cooperate with opposition leader Hong, even if they loathe him. That is the destiny — the greatest dignity — of a democracy, and the one thing that a dictatorship does not have.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 27