Party chiefs stake out positions on major issuesAcknowledging that South Korea's bumpy efforts to improve relations with North Korea had entered "a quiet period," Lee Bu-young, chairman of the governing Uri Party, said yesterday that Seoul would be flexible in seeking to solve the situation and would eventually propose a North-South Summit.
Speaking at the Asia-Europe Press Forum 2004, a gathering in Seoul of international journalists sponsored by the JoongAng Ilbo, Mr. Lee attributed the apparent freeze in North-South relations to several factors: the mass entry of North Korean defectors last month, the "misunderstanding" of South Korean scientists' experiments with nuclear materials, Seoul's denial of travel permits to those seeking to attend a commemoration in Pyeongyang of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung's death and a human rights bill aimed at North Korea passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a separate address to the same group, Park Geun-hye, the chairwoman of the opposition Grand National Party, said North Korea has what she called a "dual identity" for Koreans as both "a threat to South Korea's security, but also a partner in reunification and prosperity."
In thinly veiled criticism of the governing party, she said in approaching Pyeongyang "we should refrain from making hasty political decisions and ostentatious policies, and carefully examine the unique situations of the two Koreas and the surrounding environment before taking action." The two political leaders briefly shook hands and smiled before the cameras at the event.
In addition to the North Korean issue, Mr. Lee made his party's case for the abolishment of the National Security Law, the South's harsh statute originally drawn to protect the country from communist subversion. Democracy activists have denounced the law for many years, calling it a weapon used by past dictators to maintain power.
Mr. Lee called the law "a prime example of the leftover of our past. Not only was it used to carry out human rights violations and abuses, but also as a legal instrument to destroy our national identity." Once the law is abolished, Mr. Lee said, "we will encourage changes in human rights [in North Korea] and for them to make changes in their Workers' Party charter."
Ms. Park opposed the effort, saying the law is the safeguard to protect democracy and market economy. But she also said there is room to compromise with the governing party.
On rectifying the country's history, Mr. Lee said, "Only an earnest and accurate analysis of history can open a future-oriented relationship." Ms. Park said, "In principle I do not believe politicians should be involved in history disputes because politicians themselves will be judged by history."