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Top lawmaker seeks to pass peace pact

South Korea’s parliamentary speaker has voiced a strong desire to pass a resolution marking the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end at Seoul’s National Assembly by June, as the first step toward joint resolutions with the U.S. and China.

Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, 67, also stressed the need to improve inter-Korean ties this year as President Park Geun-hye’s unrenewable five-year term nears its halfway point.

“The parliamentary resolution will celebrate the relative stability that Northeast Asia has enjoyed in the 70 years after World War II,” Chung said during an interview with The Korea Herald at the main parliamentary building in Seoul on April 22.

“There was the Korean War, but South Korea, China and Japan were able to improve their respective economies over the past seven decades,” the five-term lawmaker added. 

Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Chung has proposed making the World War II resolution two-way with the U.S. and China, by writing separate joint statements with the U.S. Congress and China’s National People’s Congress.

Chung pitched his idea to U.S. lawmakers during a visit there last month, and to Zhang Dejiang, the NPC Standing Committee chairman, during a stay in China last December.

“Mr. Zhang expressed his support for the idea, and the joint resolution (with China) is under preparation. Mr. Zhang will visit South Korea in June, so I hope to get the resolution done by then,” Chung said.

John Boehner, the sepaker of the House of Representatives, had likewise welcomed the idea of writing a joint U.S.-South Korea resolution on the 70th anniversary of World War II’s end, Chung added.

“Rep. Ed Royce, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chief, also supported the proposal, but he urged us to write our version first, so that the U.S. Congress could add their own words to our initiative,” Chung said.

South Korea’s top lawmaker added that the Washington-Seoul resolution would be finalized sometime later this year, when President Park is expected to visit the White House.

Chung will propose a similar resolution to Japan’s Diet.

Chung, a neurosurgeon-turned-politician, has been trailblazing in diplomatic efforts to enhance ties with tricky neighbors and upgrade Seoul’s foothold in the international arena. He served as the assembly’s deputy speaker from 2010 and 2012, before winning the parliament’s top post last May. Chung, a fifth-term lawmaker, left the Saenuri Party in accordance with assembly laws that ban the speaker’s party affiliation.

Chung, who owns Bong Seng Hospital in Busan, has also been praised for unconventional relations with Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling party, challenging controversial policies or positions such as criticizing Park’s “uncommunicativeness.”

Chung’s resolution initiative comes as South Korea ponders what meaning it should attach to 2015, a year marking an array of landmark anniversaries.

The year is the 50th anniversary of Seoul’s normalization of diplomatic ties with Tokyo in 1965, after Japan’s colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945, a period some historians have called brutal and comparable to Nazi Germany’s occupation of France from 1940 to 1944.

As relations between the two countries have steadily worsened this decade, officials from both sides have urged Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take advantage of the symbolic meaning of the year to mend ties.

This year also marks the 70th anniversary of Korea’s division into North and South, after Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel III ― two then-relatively unknown U.S. military officers ― divided Korea along the 38th parallel in August 1945, using a National Geographic map under a 30-minute time frame.

The two were asked to map out the border between the U.S. occupation zone and the Soviet Union’s, the two countries that had agreed to jointly occupy Korea after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War.

Rusk would serve as U.S. Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969, and Bonesteel as the commander of U.S. Forces Korea from 1966 to 1969.

“What is important though is not the past 70 years, but the next 30,” Chung said. “We must maintain this peace that has enabled the region to grow,” Chung added.

Chung also said this year would be critical to improving Seoul-Pyongyang ties.

“I am at a dilemma (on how to improve relations with North Korea),” he said with a sigh.

“Cheong Wa Dae has not been pessimistic (on improving relations), but appears to be taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach on Pyongyang,” the speaker said.

“But from my standpoint, I think that this year is extremely important in improving ties with Pyongyang, because we have major elections next April,” he said in reference to the 2016 parliamentary elections.

“Once the parliamentary elections end, public attention will be fixed on the presidential race (in 2017),” Chung said.

“So this year ― (which does not have any major election) ― will prove critical for the president to carry out her policies, especially on North Korea,” Chung added.

The speaker expressed his determination to propose setting up a meeting between himself and his parliamentary counterpart in the North, Kim Yong-nam, sometime in June.

“I will officially propose the plan again during my keynote speech on Constitution Day in July,” he said.

Constitution Day occurs on July 17 in South Korea, a day which notes the founding of the country’s government in 1948.

The senior politician added that dealing with the Sewol disaster was the most difficult time of his term.

“It was tough. It was tough asking for the victims’ families to be patient, as they had suffered so much already,” the speaker said, in reference to the months-long partisan fighting that had delayed the passage of the special Sewol bill for up to four months until last November.

The legislation authorized the founding of an independent inquiry into the disaster’s causes, and the government’s botched rescue operations. The bill’s delay, though, left many of the bereaved families with a strong distrust of politicians.

“But I was reassured when I heard that the families had considered me a trustworthy person.”

In regards to repeated reports of him being dubbed one of the potential presidential candidates, Chung said it is the decision that would be left to the disposition of Providence.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)
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