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[Reporter`s view] Charges of opportunism might be valid

Posted December. 26, 2000 14:27,   


A veil has begun to shroud Minister Noh Mu-Hyun's remarks and the resulting clamor.

Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Noh seemed downright confident early on. He unleashed sharp criticism on the ruling Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) Rep. Kim Joong-Kwon.

"He is an opportunist lacking any leadership qualification," Noh said of Kim.

Then Dec. 23, Noh did a double take.

"My earlier off-the-record informal statement made it seem as though the party was mired in despotism," Noh said. "I apologize to the party and the president for such a remark."

Perhaps a greater examination of the time and circumstance, at a seafood market on the evening of Dec. 21, of the first remark is needed.

At a year-end gathering sponsored by Minister Roh with the invitation extended to the press, the seemingly casual remark made by the minister turned into a political headache. The clamor over his casual remark was due to his very political clout as a minister. In fact, his opinion seemed resolute at the time.

"An opportunist is a good target for gaining the seat-majority, but not as a leader," served as the first assault. Even prior to the round of drinks, his remarks were sharp and assaultive. Then, following the article carried by Dong-a Ilbo on Dec. 22 of his remarks, the uproar began to build momentum.

In response to the ruling MDP's statement downplaying his remarks as being made during a state of drunkenness, Minister Noh quickly shot back: "Outrageous! Statements were not made in a state of drunkenness. The statements reflected my opinion and judgment."

In fact, he was indeed not drunk. However, with the threat of forced resignation from the ministerial position, as well as from party affiliation, he backtracked.

Minister Noh did not ask for his statements to be taken off the record that evening. In addition to what was printed, he made various other statements. Other than Rep. Kim, he also mentioned Party Chairman Rhee In-Je as "a man with a soft backbone, easily swayed when needed." He also added that he had been greatly surprised, once having become a minister, to see so many men who needed to be removed from their posts.

Such retractions and double takes by men in high government posts are understandable. For the greater good, it is necessary at times to keep a lid on personal opinions and views.

However, in case of the statement by Minister Noh, who is apt at making reliable judgments, his observation of some persons being opportunists might have been based on more than thin air.

Kim Dong-Won daviskim@donga.com