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Seoul calls criticism over its leaflet ban ‘interference’

Seoul calls criticism over its leaflet ban ‘interference’

Posted December. 22, 2020 07:33,   

Updated December. 22, 2020 07:33


The South Korean government is facing growing criticism from the international community over the passage of a bill banning the launching of propaganda leaflets into North Korea. A commission under the U.S. House of Representatives is planning a hearing on the leaflet ban and the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea called on the South Korean government reconsider the ban. Britain’s parliament demanded an intervention by its government and Japan’s Asahi Shimbun published an editorial critical of the ban. South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party (DP), however, refuted the criticism, saying it is “interference in internal affairs.” The party leadership, including Chairman Lee Nak-yon, expressed regret over criticism of the ban from the U.S. Congress.

The ruling party’s response to the international criticism, which called it “interference of internal affairs,” is not only lame but dishonorable. There is no need to separate internal from external affairs when it comes to protecting the universal value of mankind and the freedom of expression‎ guaranteed by the Constitution. It is no different from dictatorships, such as North Korea and China, which have disregarded international criticism over its human rights abuse as “infringement on sovereignty,” and the logic used by the past military regime of South Korea. It is such a contradictory response considering that today’s democracy in South Korea was possible thanks to those “interference in internal affairs.” No wonder why a diplomatic expert, who had served as a high-ranking official under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, criticized the government for making a “poor and flimsy” argument.

In an explanatory material released last week, the South Korean Ministry of Unification introduced an instance, where some North Korean defectors drew strong protest from North Korea by inciting people to distribute goods coated with coronavirus to North Korea. The ministry brought up an Internet rumor to blame North Korean defectors, who are now the citizens of South Korea. The DP Monday had a meeting with the residents in the border areas and argued that the ban is a measure to protect the lives and safety of the people, seemingly an attempt to emphasize that the bill was not introduced on Kim Yo Jong’s order. But such political distraction technique cannot hide the essence of the issue, which is the violation of universal value.

The consequences of the leaflet ban will not be temporary. The South Korean government could face lawsuits over the unconstitutionality of the bill and be criticized from the international community. The new bill could also serve as a realistic obstacle to the South Korean government’s relations with other nations. In particular, the Biden administration, which puts importance on democracy and human rights, is expected to take a completely different diplomatic approach from the Trump administration. The leaflet ban could have a negative impact not only on ROK-US alliance but also on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. President Moon Jae-in should acknowledge that he has failed to realize the power of value while enjoying the power of the powerful ruling party and exercise his veto power.