Just one day after coming under fire for refusing to label North Korea “the main enemy” on live TV, leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in was dragged further into controversy Friday over his stance on Pyongyang -- South Korea’s communist neighbor, brethren and foe.
A former top diplomat renewed his claim that Moon had in 2007 suggested the Seoul government consult Pyongyang before deciding its position on a UN resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses.
Song at that time served as foreign minister, while Moon was chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun.
Former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon speaks to reporters on his way to his office at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
Presenting a self-written memo and a document purportedly containing Pyongyang’s response, Song said the Roh administration decided to abstain from the UN vote after hearing back from the North.
He first raised the allegation in his memoir, published in October. Moon at that time ruled it out, saying Song’s memory was not correct.
“Whether he will continue to say so even after seeing the document, it is time for Moon to answer,” Song said.
On Friday, Moon once again denied the allegation and called it part of a conspiracy to bring him down in the run-up to the presidential election slated for May 9.
“The decision to withdraw had been made four days before our announcement, in a meeting chaired by the president,” Moon told reporters after a forum on Friday. “If it does not violate the presidential records management law for us to open up the meeting document, we would.”
The note the former diplomat disclosed is only an answer from the North that came after the South’s notification, he said.
“We didn’t, and had no reason to, ask for their opinion on the matter.”
If that document was really a response from Pyongyang, there should be a preceding inquiry from Seoul concerning the matter, Moon argued, suggesting the National Intelligence Agency reveal relevant records of the inter-Korean correspondence.
Moon’s spokesperson told reporters later in the day that the camp has decided to get to the bottom of the matter and take legal action against Song.
”We have already started looking into legal measures. We will lodge a complaint as early as next week,” Rep. Park Kwang-on said.
Other presidential candidates didn’t miss out on the opportunity to attack the front-runner whose lead, according to polls released Friday, is further cementing, with less than 20 days left to the election.
Leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in speaks during a forum on gender equality in Yongsan, Seoul, on Friday. (Yonhap)
Hong Joon-pyo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party called Moon a liar.
“Look at what happened to President Richard Nixon (of the United States). He was ousted for making series of lies. A leader does not lie,” said the candidate. Hong has been facing his own scandal, having just denied his involvement in attempted rape about four decades ago from an anecdote he introduced in his autobiography over a decade ago, which has received media attention only now.
Yoo Seong-min of the conservative splinter Bareun Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party also jumped on the bandwagon, claiming the former foreign minister’s revelation is another example of how unfit Moon is to lead South Korea in a tense confrontation with North Korea.
Earlier this week, Moon came under attack for his refusal to refer to the North as the “main enemy” during a televised debate among the top five presidential candidates.
Moon’s campaign said he refuses to publicly label the North as such because the next president needs to seek dialogue with Pyongyang to establish peace on the peninsula and pursue a peaceful reunification.
Repeated allegations that the liberal camp is “submissive” toward the North have long been a sore spot for Moon.
During the 2012 presidential election campaign, Moon seemed to be taking the upper hand over conservative rival Park Geun-hye when allegations were raised that Roh had attempted in 2007 to nullify the inter-Korean maritime border known as the Northern Limit Line.
The then-Saenuri Party lawmaker who brought up the issue was later fined for spreading false information, but the court ruling took place after the election -- a victory for Park.
But it is also based upon such experience that Moon’s camp this year is claiming to be better prepared for North Korea issues and other national security issues.
“This was bound to happen at some point or another,” was the response of one of Moon’s camp when Hong associated Moon with the North Korean leader.
During the run-up to the official electioneering period, the recent set of national security threats -- ranging from the North’s missile launches to the US gesture to take pre-emptive attacks on the North -- had not inflicted tangible damage on Moon’s support or public image.
It was his camp officials’ analysis that the political slump of conservative candidates weakened the conventional impact of the issues.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org