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Opposition Floor Leader Under Fire for Comment

Posted October. 22, 2010 11:45,   


The floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party is under fire for saying Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping called the Lee Myung-bak administration “the disrupter of peace” on the Korean Peninsula.

Park Jie-won said Tuesday that Xi made the comment in May last year in a meeting with former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who died in August the same year.

The presidential office in Seoul was quick to blast Park Wednesday, followed by senior members of the ruling Grand National Party.

Park’s comment also became fodder for criticism Thursday at the parliamentary inspection of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry led by the National Assembly`s Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee.

The floor leader slammed back at the presidential office Thursday morning, saying, “I only told the truth.”

Despite the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially denying that Xi made the comment Thursday afternoon, Park remained defiant. “I told the truth but will refrain from making further comment,” he said.

○ Conversation between Xi and Kim Dae-jung

According to a document recording the conversation between Xi and Kim Dae-jung obtained by The Dong-A Ilbo Thursday, Xi did not blame the Lee administration for strained inter-Korean relations. Instead, Xi said he hopes bilateral ties improve between the two Koreas.

“People in the two Koreas are compatriots and brethren, so if the two sides consider each other’s concerns by bearing in mind the broad direction of consolation and cooperation, I am confident that they can overcome their challenges,” Xi said.

He also expressed his expectation for cooperation with the Lee administration, saying, “I am satisfied with the upgrade of our bilateral relationship to a strategic cooperative partnership. Developing this relationship will not only serve the basic interests of both countries but also contribute to regional peace and stability.”

To this, Kim Dae-jung positively assessed the development of South Korean-Chinese relations, adding, “In the 10 years since I met North Korea’s National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il in 2000, inter-Korean relations have markedly improved but relations have recently been strained. This is a very regrettable situation.”

Kim effectively said the good inter-Korean relationship enjoyed for 10 years under his and the Roh Moo-hyun administrations turned sour after the launch of the Lee administration.

○ Bipartisan criticism

Park was also criticized by his fellow party members. At the parliamentary inspection of the government the same day, Democratic Party lawmaker Moon Hee-sang said, “(Park’s comment) is assumed to be true to a significant degree. I do believe, however, that he made an inappropriate remark.”

"Xi is the next leader of a major country and his dialogue partner was the head of diplomacy of South Korea. So I believe it is inappropriate to lightly mention comments of the two leaders.”

Another Democratic Party lawmaker, Park Joo-sun, also said, “If Xi didn’t make the comment (as Park claimed), Park should be held personally accountable, and if Xi did say it, the government should be tremendously shocked over it.”

Rep. Yoo Ki-june, the ruling party’s secretary for the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, trade and unification, said, “It`s improper for the floor leader of a party to make such remarks in the absence of evidence in the recording of the conversation between Chinese Vice President Xi and former President Kim,” adding, “The Grand National Party demands that Park apologize and take responsibility for his remark.”

Ruling party lawmaker Kim Hyo-jae said, “By claiming something that was never said, Park not only undermined diplomatic relations with China but also insulted former President Kim and committed an act of discourtesy against Chinese Vice President Xi.”

Fellow ruling party lawmaker Gu Sang-chan also said, “It’s wrong for an attendee of a high-level meeting between the former president and the figure who is certain to become China’s next leader to release the content of their conversation.”

Before the Chinese Foreign Ministry officially denied Park’s allegation, several Democratic Party lawmakers urged parliament to summon attendees of the meeting as witnesses for the parliamentary inspection. The ruling party rejected this demand, however, saying, “This will not serve the national interest.”

○ Embarrassment to the Democratic Party

Park told a high-level policy planning meeting of his party Thursday, “I’ve never said something that’s not true,” adding, “The ruling camp should try to reach an agreement with opposition parties and persuade their leaders. The Democratic Party is not a party to be taken lightly.”

Stressing what he said was true, Park said, “It is regrettable that they only believe what the Foreign Ministry said while refusing to believe what we say,” adding, “Though you attack me like a swarm of bees, I won’t die.”

Attendees of the meeting, however, neither agreed with him nor made comments. The party also mentioned nothing about the matter at a National Assembly briefing.

The Democratic Party grew agitated after Beijing’s official denial of Park’s allegation. The floor leader, however, stuck to his stance in a short statement.

Voices in the Democratic Party said Park went too far, however, and pressure could build within the party to have Park resign.

gun43@donga.com pen@donga.com