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[Editorial] Clarify position

DP disparages former captain of Cheonan, Navy vessel sunk by N. Korean torpedo

By Korea Herald

Published : June 8, 2023 - 05:31

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President Yoon Suk Yeol said in his Memorial Day address on Tuesday that it is the government's duty to remember and honor the uniformed heroes who sacrificed their lives to defend South Korea's liberal democracy.

He awarded certificates to five surviving soldiers of the Cheonan corvette. This is the fair treatment that heroes who defended the country deserve.

Recognizing and rewarding their patriotism is a value that should be respected and carried out regardless of partisanship.

But there are still some unreasonable people who groundlessly dishonor these heroes.

Lee Rae-kyung, the honorary chair of the progressive grassroots advocacy group, The Tomorrow, is among them. He was nominated by Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the majority opposition Democratic Party of Korea, as chairperson of the party's reform committee on Monday. Just nine hours later, he voluntarily resigned amid simmering criticism over his absurd remarks. One of his comments was about the sinking of the naval patrol ship. He argued that it self-destructed. This is an insult to all those who died, as well as those who survived the incident.

The way in which the party has tried to defend Lee’s nomination makes people shake their heads. The party's senior spokesperson, Kwon Chil-seung, on Monday made derogatory remarks about Choi Won-il, captain of the corvette when it sank due to an explosion. "How dare you say so. You killed your subordinates," Kwon reportedly said. He made this remark following Choi's call for the dismissal of the nominee who argued the Cheonan self-destructed. The comment was also in response to Choi's demand that the party apologize to the bereaved families and surviving soldiers.

Jang Kyung-tae, a National Assembly member of the party who sits on its Supreme Council, defended Kwon. Referring to Choi, he said, “a soldier will inevitably be responsible for failing in his duty of standing guard.”

With criticisms mounting over his comment, Kwon expressed his regret over his remarks on Wednesday.

The corvette, carrying 104 personnel, sank off a South Korean island close to the maritime border with North Korea in March 2010. Forty-six seamen died.

An official investigation carried out by a team of international experts concluded that the patrol ship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo apparently fired from a midget submarine. It was North Korea, not Choi, that killed the soldiers.

Choi passed out in his cabin when the torpedo hit the warship. He was rescued by soldiers who broke open his cabin door. His subordinates testified that he had refused to abandon the ship to rescue survivors but that they forced him into a lifeboat.

Choi met Lee Jae-myung, chairman of the Democratic Party, on Tuesday, shortly after the 68th Memorial Day ceremony in the Seoul National Cemetery. He went to Lee and asked him to arrange a meeting with the bereaved families. In a Facebook post, he disclosed what he had said to Lee: "A senior spokesperson said yesterday that I killed my subordinates. Was it North Korea’s barbaric act (to kill the Cheonan soldiers)? The senior spokesperson speaks for the party leader and represents the party positions. Were his remarks (on me) the party's position? I ask the party to let me know as soon as possible."

According to Choi, Lee did not reply to his questions and only nodded his head.

It is not the first time that the party has made such remarks about Choi. A former deputy spokesperson of the party said in 2021 that “Choi did not take proper responsibility, despite burying his subordinates at sea.”

The party showed an ambiguous attitude about the cause of the Cheonan corvette incident. Party leader Lee said Monday, “I trust the government position.” Former President Moon Jae-in said while in office that “nothing has changed in the official government position.” They declined to say anything about North Korea's actions.

If the party wants to avoid public scrutiny in connection with the sinking of the warship, it must take this opportunity to clarify its position.