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(News Focus) Liberal presidential hopeful rocked by alleged 'Pyongyang collusion'

2016/10/17 11:35

By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, Oct. 17 (Yonhap) -- Moon Jae-in, a former head of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), is coming under scrutiny and could face challenges in proving his ability to lead the country if he were to become president following testimony that he sought to consult Pyongyang on Seoul's inter-Korean policies, political pundits said Monday.

Ex-Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said in his latest memoir that South Korea actually consulted with Pyongyang before voting to abstain from a U.N. resolution critical of the North passed almost a decade ago.

Song said Seoul abstained from the 2007 U.N. resolution on North Korea's dismal human rights situation after hearing Pyongyang's opinion. The move took place under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration and the former head of the main opposition party was reportedly deeply involved in the process.

Moon had served as chief of staff to then-President Roh, who is considered a symbolic figure of the liberal faction.

Roh, who led the country from 2003 to 2008, killed himself in May 2009, expressing emotional stress over a months-long corruption probe involving his immediate family. Due to this background, the opposition faction as well as Roh's supporters widely consider Moon his successor, with polls generally giving him a consistent edge over other potential liberal rivals.

Moon Jae-in, a former head of the Minjoo Party of Korea. (Yonhap) Moon Jae-in, a former head of the Minjoo Party of Korea. (Yonhap)

The testimony heated up the country's political realm, especially amid rising tension with North Korea which conducted its fifth nuclear test on Sept. 9 and continued to make threats and engage in provocative behavior against the South and the United States.

Reflecting such developments, Saenuri focused its efforts to further ignite the controversy, as the ruling camp has been suffering from a lack of popular figures to win the party ticket for next year's presidential election.

In the latest survey conducted by pollster Gallup Korea last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon maintained his lead as the most-preferred candidate at 27 percent, followed by Moon with 18 percent and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor People's Party with 9 percent. Other Saenuri hopefuls trail this pact.

While Ban is widely considered a conservative candidate and closer to Saenuri than the opposition, the U.N. head whose term ends this year has yet to express a clear yes or no on the issue of his running for office. He did, however, hint at a possible bid, with many here suspecting he will be a Saenuri candidate.

"We will join hands with the people to exclude anyone who asked Pyongyang about U.N. resolutions on the North Korean human rights issue from working for the South Korean government," Rep. Lee Jung-hyun, the head of Saenuri said, strongly condemning Moon.

Lee added that Moon's action can be considered a "collusion conspiracy," adding he turned his back on South Koreans as well as the international community.

"The essence of this issue is that South Korea asked North Korea before making a diplomatic and security-related decision," said Rep. Chung Jin-suk, the floor leader of Saenuri, adding Moon should seek a lawsuit if the testimony is fabricated.

The attacks come as the country's conservatives have consistently viewed liberals, including Moon, as being overly "soft" and conciliatory towards the North.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who is considered to be relatively progressive-leaning among Saenuri lawmakers, also said it is shocking that South Korea actually consulted with Pyongyang in relation to casting a vote on the resolution surrounding North Korea's violations of human rights.

The presidential office chipped in and said Monday that if the allegations are true, they would be "very grave, serious and shocking."

   Political watchers said Moon will have to act firmly towards the allegations raised, as the issue could influence his candidacy as well as the liberal bloc's fate in the critical election.

"It is a great insult," Moon said in response to Saenuri's claim. "Whenever an election approaches, those people only argue about North Korea and ideology. It is time to get engaged in a different politics."

   Officials close to Moon said the testimony is groundless, adding the then-administration informed Pyongyang of its decision to abstain, rather than consulting with it before deciding on its stance.

"There were no reasons to ask the North before making a decision," Rep. Kyung-soo of Minjoo said.

Rep. Woon Sang-ho, the floor leader of the Minjoo, added the party will take legal action against Saenuri for accusing Moon with false evidence.

The Minjoo added Saenuri's attack on the former party leader is intended to divert attention from the presidential office's alleged involvement in suspicious fundraising related to Mir and K-Sports foundations. The presidential office has countered that the opposition's claims of wrongdoing lack credibility because they have no concrete evidence.

Political pundits also said the disclosure comes at a time when the ruling camp has been on the defensive over the fundrasing issue.

"Naturally they will try to bring this matter to the fore, with inter-Korean relations at one of its lowest at present," an observer said.

Song, meanwhile, said he is flustered about the escalating debate over his book, adding he did not expect it would lead to such confusion.

"It was complicated to write a 550-page book. Would I have written it to only put an emphasis on those eight pages?" Song said. "I did not write the book for years to see controversy."

   Song declined to further comment on the issue, adding his statements would lead to further controversies.

"Everything is stated on the book. There is nothing to add to it," Song said. "It is regrettable that the book led to political infighting when it was intended to give an opportunity to learn lessons from the past, and move forward."

  

Ex-Foreign Minister Song Min-soon's memoir, tentatively named "Glacier Moves," is displayed at a Seoul-based bookstore in this photo taken on Oct. 16, 2016. (Yonhap) Ex-Foreign Minister Song Min-soon's memoir, tentatively named "Glacier Moves," is displayed at a Seoul-based bookstore in this photo taken on Oct. 16, 2016. (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr

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