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Published : 2016-01-05 18:46
Updated : 2016-01-05 18:46

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea leader Moon Jae-in meant it when he said he would “boldly recruit new figures” in a housecleaning action to replace the big shots who recently defected.

Lee Soo-hyuck, former deputy foreign minister and chief delegate for the six-party negotiation talks with North Korea, joined the party Tuesday, following suit after crime profiler Pyo Chang-won and video game company Webzen chairman Kim Byung-kwan.

“Lee is a top-level expert in the diplomatic field, which has long been a weak spot for our party,” Moon said.

“We expect him to play a key role in reversing or negating the humiliating Korea-Japan agreement on wartime sex slavery.”

A living legend in Southeast Asian diplomacy, Lee has both a diplomat’s bargaining power and a scholar’s insight, Moon said in describing the new member.

 
Former senior diplomat Lee Soo-hyuck (left) and Minjoo Party of Korea chairman Rep. Moon Jae-in leave the National Assembly after a press conference on Tuesday. Yonhap


The party chief’s mention of the disputed deal led to speculations that Lee will be a challenger against the lineup of foreign affairs experts by the rival Saenuri Party, which is seeking to recruit U.N. Secretary-General and former Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon as a presidential candidate.

“The sex slavery was a highly intricate diplomatic issue that involves history, politics and human rights,” Lee said upon announcing his party entry.

“The foreign ministers of the two countries made a hasty deal, without even reflecting the stance of the victims. Their agreement was purely political and thus lacks legal binding force.”

His censure was in contrast to Ban’s favorable comment on the deal referring to President Park Geun-hye’s decision as “courageous.”

Lee had served as assistant deputy foreign minister from 2003-2005 under the late President Roh Moo-hyun, and later as South Korean ambassador to Germany and deputy department head at the National Intelligence Service.

Being from Jeongeup, North Jeolla Province, Lee is likely to run for the party in the forthcoming parliamentary election in the region against Rep. You Sung-yop, who recently left the party amid partisan feuding.

 
Independent Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo volunteers as a street cleaner at Yeongdeungpo in western Seoul on Tuesday. Yonhap


With the seasoned diplomatic figure in the strategic map, the Minjoo Party appeared to be slowly recovering from the defection of former cochairman Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo and the consequent departure of some senior party members.

Pyo, who is known for his righteous image, immediately caught the attention of the young and progressive groups through a series of hard-hitting comments on key issues, including the sex slavery deal.

Kim, with his successful experience in the information technology business, is seen as a counterpart to Ahn, who rose from a computer virus vaccine developer to political rookie in the 2012 presidential election season.

While the opposition camp continued to expand its human resources pool, the ruling party remained deadlocked with internal feuds over selecting candidates.

“The Saenuri Party is preoccupied with the nomination rules, while it should strive to recruit new talents,” said the party’s chief publicist Cho Dong-won.

For months, the party has been caught in partisan strife between the pro-President Park clique and the non-Park group steered by party leader Kim Moo-sung. The former pushed to recommend former government officials as strategic candidates in the general elections, but the latter called for a nomination based on an in-party primary election.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)