Moon’s relentless push
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
President Moon Jae-in wanted to achieve two things during his meeting with floor leaders of five political parties at the Blue House on Aug. 16. First, he desperately wanted to bring them to his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang and second, he urged them to ratify the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration with Kim. President Moon repeatedly asked them to accept the two requests, saying, “It will greatly help me to negotiate with Kim in Pyongyang.”
After the luncheon, the five floor leaders wrapped up the meeting and asked the president to leave, but President Moon remained and once again asked them to ratify the declaration and accompany him in the summit with Kim.
A few days later, the Big Three floor leaders — the ruling Minjoo Party’s Hong Young-pyo, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP)’s Kim Sung-tae and Bareunmirae Party’s Kim Kwan-young — got together. LKP’s Kim said that the National Assembly has dignity and he doesn’t want the floor leaders to join the president’s entourage. Kim Kwan-young sided with him. With two against and one in favor, President Moon’s offer was rejected.
But the Blue House was stubborn. On September 7 — the day after the summit schedule was announced — Hong Young-pyo asked Kim Sung-tae and Kim Kwan-young to join the visit again. Kim Sung-tae flatly refused, and Kim Kwan-young said it would be hard. The day before, Kim Kwan-young experienced strong resistance after proposing to adopt a bill to support the Panmunjom Declaration during his National Assembly speech.
Then, the Blue House changed the target and asked party leaders Kim Byung-joon and Sohn Hak-kyu to accept the proposals. The Blue House also chose to assign the mission to National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang instead of directly contacting them. But it was a mistake. The two opposition parties claimed that they were being mistreated, as they would barely accept the invitation even if the Blue House Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok had asked. They were also upset that they were asked after being turned down by the floor leaders, who are their subordinates, twice. Moreover, speaker Moon, whom the Blue House considered an ally, was skeptical about the visit. To a Blue House official conveying the invitation, he said it would be inappropriate for the National Assembly speaker to join the president on the visit and turned down the request.
The Blue House remained stubborn. Even before speaker Moon met with two vice speakers of the Assembly, Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok held a news conference at the Blue House on Sept. 10 and officially invited the team of the National Assembly Speaker and five party leaders to the Pyongyang summit. The opposition parties were enraged. Speaker Moon was also in an awkward position. When the ruling and opposition floor leaders visited him in the morning, he said, “It may not be appropriate for the National Assembly speaker and party leaders to follow the president, but the president is persistent.”
Now that even Speaker Moon was not joining, the Blue House made the last move. Presidential Secretary for Political Affairs Han Byung-do visited opposition leaders and asked them again on Sept. 11. As the main opposition LKP was sure to refuse, he focused on Bareunmirae Party’s Sohn Hak-kyu. But he also turned it down. Why is the Blue House acting like a stalker? Some analyze that Kim Jong-un strongly asked for Seoul to ratify the Panmunjom Declaration. The October 4 Joint Declaration agreed to during the Roh Moo-hyun administration was scrapped during the Lee Myung-bak administration to North Korea’s dismay.
Kim Jong-un, who knows the past, asked the Panmunjom Declaration to be ratified by the South’s National Assembly and have the oppositions join the visit to make the declaration effective even as the administration changes. Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the Bareunmirae Party said that North Korea’s request to make inter-Korean agreement sustainable is not wrong, but the Blue House should have maintained close communications earlier. Recklessly pushing it before the meeting does not make it happen.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 13, Page 32