Bent toward North KoreaUnification Minister nominee Lee In-young, former floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), has lost his sense toward North Korea. In a written statement ahead of his nomination hearing on Thursday, the third-term lawmaker suggested that it is difficult for South Korea to claim damages from North Korea’s demolition in June of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. There is a limit to resolving the issue through normal legal procedures, he said. The liaison office was built by South Korea and cost 17 billion won ($14.1 million).
Lee went so far as to pardon North Korea for the leveling of the office because Pyongyang dismantled it “due to the sending of propaganda leaflets by North Korean defectors.” Would he use the same logic if North Korea tears down tourism facilities built by Hyundai in Mount Kumgang? We wonder whom he really represents. A lawsuit was already filed with the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office earlier this month by a South Korean lawyer against Kim Yo-jong — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister and vice department director of the Workers’ Party — for the demolition.
In a separate case, a South Korea court ruled for compensation for North Korea’s illegal acts. The Seoul Central District Court on July 7 ordered “Kim Jong-un and others” to pay 21 million won to a South Korean prisoner of war during the Korean War to compensate for his forced labor in the North. A U.S. court also ordered $500 million in compensation for the death of Otto Warmbier in North Korea in a case filed by his parents.
Regardless of the results of such rulings, filing lawsuits can serve as a warning to North Korea not to repeat such acts. Lee ignored this idea. Moreover, our Ministry of Unification is being internationally criticized for depriving North Korean defectors of their legal status as an activist group.
Lee also went too far in defense and diplomatic areas. On a joint South Korea-U.S. military exercise slated for August, he demanded it be “downscaled strategically” citing the Covid-19 pandemic. He apparently believes the drill heightens tensions on the Peninsula. He even mentioned “transfer of wartime operational control” and “North-U.S. dialogue,” which go beyond his fields.
Lee’s remarks do not make sense. Easing tension on the peninsula can help improve inter-Korean relations, but the current deadlock resulted from North Korean nuclear weapons, which pertains to the realms of the ministries of defense and foreign affairs. Lee tries to meddle in such issues only to befriend North Korea. The National Assembly must question his qualifications as unification minister.