South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s outreach to North Korea is endangering national security and putting at risk decades of progress toward economic prosperity and greater democracy, a leading member of the opposition Liberty Korea Party said.
The strong criticism from Lee Ju-young, deputy speaker of the South Korean National Assembly, reflects sharp debate over policy of the left-wing Mr. Moon.
The Moon government has reached out to Pyongyang even as President Trump pursues his own personal diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his nuclear weapons programs.
In an interview during a visit as part of a delegation to Washington this week, Mr. Lee suggested that Mr. Moon is ideologically sympathetic to North Korea and has been systematically undermining South Korea’s national security and its democratic institutions since his election in 2016.
“Since the inauguration of the Moon administration, several disconcerting events have taken place,” Mr. Lee said. “The first thing the Moon administration did was take over the press. And once they had the press in their pocket, they attempted to have the judicial sector also come within their control. And once they had the judicial sector, they also put the prosecutors in their pocket.”
With critical national legislative elections set for April, Mr. Lee accused the Moon government of waging a concerted attack on free speech with chilling implications for South Korean democracy. South Korea lacks a First Amendment-like guarantee of expansive press freedoms, and the opposition says the government has launched a wide-ranging attack on “fake news” aimed at silencing critics in the media.
Under a law propagated by Mr. Moon’s government, the country’s national police force — South Korea’s equivalent of the FBI — is charged with investigating and even criminally prosecuting those accused of publishing false information.
Mr. Moon’s administration, keen to improve relations with Pyongyang, has also been accused of silencing defectors who testify about conditions north of the 38th parallel. One defector turned journalist for The Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s leading newspaper and frequent critic of detente with North Korea, was barred by the government from covering inter-Korean talks.
Mr. Moon’s administration has also been “fast-tracking” judicial reform, meaning it will not accept amendments to the changes from opposition parties. An election reform bill passed without any opposition support caused outrage and occasioned one of the many brawls in the National Assembly that South Korea is famous for.
The bill, which introduces a proportional representation system, would effectively reduce the number of seats held by the Liberty Korea Party, the implicit goal of the reform, Mr. Lee said.
“The Liberty Korea Party is furious,” he said. “Our government is not doing anything” about North Korea’s continued weapons programs, which directly threaten South Korea in a way they do not threaten the United States.
Mr. Moon, who doesn’t face voters until 2022, appears unfazed by the opposition. His New Year’s address this week included an extended defense of his North Korea policy, a plea to revive North-South commercial projects and even an appeal to Mr. Kim to accept an open invitation to visit Seoul this year.
“We need an international solution to uphold the three principles for peace on the Korean Peninsula: no war, mutual security guarantees and prosperity,” Mr. Moon said. “But there are things that can be done through North-South cooperation. I propose that we get together and discuss those in earnest. I believe that Chairman Kim shares the same determination.”
While Seoul “will reflect on the agreements that were not honored and reasons that they failed to live up to people’s expectations,” Mr. Moon said, his government “will continue to take these steps forward.”
Rep. Kang Seok-ho, a member of the Washington delegation of the Liberty Korea Party, said Mr. Moon’s background as a human rights lawyer fighting South Korea’s previous authoritarian governments is coloring his policy with North Korea.
“He did fight against the military dictatorship,” Mr. Kang said. “However, fighting against the military does not mean he was fighting for democracy. His ideology is really rooted in socialism and communism. Once you take that into account, I don’t think you can really call him a democratic fighter.”
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