The question of whether North Korea should be seen as the ROK’s “main enemy” has come to dominate South Korea’s presidential election, with signs that the debate may continue throughout the campaign – and possibly beyond.
The controversy, which was sparked by a presidential debate held on Wednesday night, has escalated to the point that two South Korean ministries have weighed in on the issue.
“Is North Korea our ‘main enemy’?,” Yoo Seong-min, a conservative presidential candidate from the Barun Party, asked during the second presidential debate.
“I don’t think defining such a term is the job of the president,” Moon Jae-in, the progressive Minjoo Party’s candidate – widely seen as the frontrunner – said in response, avoiding directly answering the question.
However Yoo pressed Moon for an answer, claiming that South Korean Defense Ministry (MND)’s Defense White Paper “outlines that the North Korean military is our ‘main enemy.’”
“That is the job that the MND should do,” Moon answered. “But I don’t think President is responsible for such task.”
Multiple issues were discussed that night, but on the following day only one featured on the front pages of South Korean publications: the fact that Moon had refused to say North Korea was “the main enemy.”
Moon’s colleagues slammed Yoo on Thursday, saying his behavior was similar to extreme right-wing U.S. politicians from the Cold War era.
“Outdated – red herring – I am deeply disappointed at Yoo, who is clinging on the McCarthyism,” Minjoo Party lawmaker Pyo Chang-won said.
However, Minjoo’s competitors stated that they couldn’t place the country’s future in the hands of someone whose ideology was deeply “questionable.”
“After watching the debate, I couldn’t stop questioning Moon’s view on national security,” Park Ji-won, a representative from People’s Party said. “The fact that he could not answer who our main enemy is, is very dangerous.”
One candidate even claimed that Moon’s victory would be the same as Kim Jong Un winning the presidency.
“That is why I said – in the matters of North Korea policies – if Moon becomes the president, everything will be decided by Kim Jong Un,” Hong Jun-pyo, the right-wing candidate from Liberty Korea Party, said.
Even the ROK government felt compelled to enter the debate, with one releasing an official statement and the other providing an anonymous comment.
“The 2016 Defense White Paper says the North Korean government and its military is ‘our enemy,’” Moon Sang-gyun, an MND spokesperson told reporters during Thursday briefing.
Reporters present at the briefing sought to clarify if the MND’s current terminology “our enemy” is same as “the main enemy” – the archaic term that is no longer used by Defense White Paper since 2000. However the spokesperson did not elaborate further on his statement.
Under the condition of anonymity, one official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry (MoU) told South Korean media that North Korea is both “foe and partner.”
“We share the two views: armed confrontation against the North is expected, but at the same time, in the long term, we have to lead them to unification.”
BUKPUNG – WIND FROM THE NORTH
The application of Cold War logic and use of Red Herrings – called Bukpung in South Korea – towards liberal candidates has been a constant in South Korean politics, especially during election periods.
Bukpung, which literally translates as “the wind from the North” is a South Korean political term meaning that government officials are politicizing the voters’ fears of North Korea for their benefit.
One legal scholar argued that the candidates who give a “black or white” answer about North Korean issues are either “incompetent” or “dangerous.”
“The moment the president publicizes that ‘North Korea is our main enemy’ – the inter-Korean channel will be stopped,” Cho Kuk, a professor at Seoul University wrote on his website – adding that such statement would only increase tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
“Also, it will be Washington and Beijing who would be at the center of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, while Seoul would be no more than a bystander of the issue.”
A long-time North Korea observer echoed this sentiment, adding that the continued use of such binary arguments would not lend itself to progress towards inter-Korean resolution of the North Korean issue.
“Forcing the candidates to choose one between the two options is a highly improper approach. Security and inter-Korean dialogue are not the matter of choice, but the two biggest tasks the leader must take care in parallel,” Cheong Seong-jang, a senior researcher at Seoul’s government-funded Sejong Institute, told NK News.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: KCNA, edited by NK News
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