Cancellation of South Korea's pact with Japan reflects rise of Park Geun-hye
Asia News Network
SEOUL — South Korea’s abrupt cancellation of a military pact with Japan last week indicates an ongoing shift of political power to the Saenuri Party’s presidential frontrunner Park Geun-hye.
Her close associate said Monday that she expressed concerns about the government’s handling of the sensitive issue without public consensus, hours before the two countries were scheduled to sign the intelligence-sharing agreement in Tokyo.
“She showed concern over the hasty pushing for the military pact amid controversy over it. She did not take issue with its content, but with the procedural issues," the aide told the media declining to be named.
Park commands the loyalty of a majority of the party’s 150 lawmakers and is widely expected to win the party’s nomination for the December presidential election.
Saenuri floor leader Rep. Lee Han-koo, a core member of the mainstream faction loyal to Park, called Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and requested a postponement, just one and a half hours before the two governments were to sign the pact, officials from the ministry and the party said.
The party and the government basically concur on the need for the deal to better cope with continuing military threats from North Korea. But with the presidential election less than six months away, it is apparently burdensome for the party to neglect growing public discontent over the pact.
Critics have argued that the deal seeking deepened military cooperation between the two countries is inappropriate as people here still hold grudges against Japan due to the island nation’s colonial rule from 1910-45. They particularly pointed out that the government did not make sincere efforts to gain public understanding of the deal.
Public sentiment against Japan has worsened in recent years due to Japan’s repeated claim to sovereignty over Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo, its distortion of historical facts, and failure to apologise to Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
As public criticism deepens, President Lee Myung-bak scolded his government for failing to sufficiently collect public opinion on the deal before inking it.
“It was not an issue to be tabled at the Cabinet meeting without the due process of getting public consensus over it," Lee was quoted by his spokesperson Park Jeong-ha as saying during a meeting of his senior secretaries.
“Explain to the National Assembly and the public details of the deal to ensure that there are no misunderstandings."
Amid the public criticism, the main opposition Democratic United Party has demanded that Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik step down, and other related ministers and security officials at Cheong Wa Dae be disciplined.
The dispute over the deal further escalated as a Foreign Ministry official appeared to shift the blame to Cheong Wa Dae, saying that the presidential office led the process of signing the deal without securing public consensus. Critics called the buck-passing an indication of slackened discipline toward the end of the current administration.
Foreign Minister Kim apologised for the incident.
“The Foreign Ministry will not shift the blame to (any other ministries). We will make efforts to seek understanding for the deal from the Assembly and the public," he told reporters.
The DUP upped its offensive on the government, repeating its calls for Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik to step down and related ministers to take responsibility for “backdoor dealings” to clinch the contentious deal.
“In addition to the dismissal of the prime minister, we also need to scrap the deal," said DUP leader Rep. Lee Hae-chan during a general meeting of the party’s lawmakers.
“In the beginning of the 21st century, signing that deal is a move that goes backwards in history. The deal that threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula should be scrapped."