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Calls grow within Saenuri Party for more flexible approach to N.K.

The leadership of the ruling Saenuri Party butted heads on Monday over whether to scrap sanctions on North Korea following Pyongyang’s sinking of a South Korean Navy ship five years ago, revisiting the debate that has persisted as inter-Korean relations remain chilly.

“The sanctions were unilaterally imposed on the North by us. We must remove them and create a mood of peace,” said Rep. Rhee In-jae, a member of the party’s supreme council.

“I am sure that letting our money, our aid, and our products flow into the North will hasten unification,” the sixth-term lawmaker said.

Saenuri Party chairman Rep. Kim Moo-sung added weight to adopting a flexible approach, saying “Although humanitarian aid is still viable under the sanctions, we have neglected it.”

“There may be a need to reach a middle ground by more actively fostering (humanitarian aid),” Kim said.

The party’s floor leader Rep. Yoo Seong-min, however, opposed it.

“Some are claiming the sanctions must be scrapped when in fact the North has not taken any measures such as admitting the attack, punishing those responsible, offering an apology or promising such an attack will not happen again,” Yoo said.

Party spokesperson Rep. Kim Young-woo sided with Yoo, reportedly saying that lifting sanctions would damage the principle and consistency of policies toward North Korea, aggravating the debate between South Korea’s progressives and conservatives.

The sanctions limiting inter-Korean trade and humanitarian aid to the North were levied after a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan, a South Korean Navy ship in March 2010. This Thursday marks the fifth anniversary.

The North has yet to issue an apology over the sinking. It has been the South Korean government’s official stance that the North’s apology is a prerequisite to any reconsideration of the sanctions.

But calls to take a more flexible approach have constantly surfaced among the members of the Saenuri Party, as the party struggles to pick up approval ratings by appealing to moderate voters while further consolidating the conservative supporters ahead of next month’s by-elections. Four parliamentary seats are set to be contested in next month’s polls, and three of the voting districts are viewed to be the opposition strongholds.

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, meanwhile, has consistently called on the Park Geun-hye administration to remove the so-called May 24 sanctions for the sake of inter-Korean relations.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)
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