Differences over North Korea, one of the most divisive issues in South Korea, have been cited as a key challenge facing the new party that was created Tuesday through the merger of the center-left People's Party and the center-right Bareun Party.
The new party came into being at a time when relations with North Korea have emerged as a top issue in the South amid North Korea's charm offensive toward the South that included its participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and a surprise visit to the South by the sister of leader Kim Jong-un.
The North's leader, via his sister, also invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit the North for what would be a third inter-Korean summit, a proposal that has divided the South with proponents calling for an early summit and detractors opposing a meeting unless the North agrees to denuclearization.
|Rep. Yoo Seong-min, co-leader of the newly created Bareun Future Party, speaks during the first meeting of the party`s supreme council on Feb. 14. (Yonhap)|
On Wednesday, the divide was seen during the first supreme council meeting of the new party.
"We cannot deny that a South-North summit is the most effective means for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and restoration of inter-Korean relations," said Rep. Park Joo-sun, a co-leader of the new party, who comes from the center-left People's Party.
"The Bareun Future Party is ready to deal cooperatively with an inter-Korean summit in a bipartisan manner," Park said, though he added the government should work to create the right conditions for a summit without trying to set up one in a hurried manner.
However, another co-leader, Rep. Yoo Seong-min, who comes from the center-right Bareun Party, was negative about the government's handling of inter-Korean relations and called for further strengthening the alliance with the United States.
"Rather than talking only to North Korea, the Moon Jae-in government should talk to the United States," Yoo said. "The Moon government should immediately send a special envoy to the US government and Congress to really solidify the Korea-US alliance."
Yoo also said South Korea should conduct the postponed joint military exercises with the US immediately after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
The remark was seen as reflecting conservative views and concern that the South is playing into the North's hands as the communist regime is using the charm offensive to undermine international sanctions. Critics also argue that the South's stance could alienate the US, which is determined to continue its "maximum pressure" campaign against Pyongyang.
Yoo said it is more important now than ever to strengthen the alliance with the US because Seoul could use the strong relationship to prevent Washington from unilaterally using military options.
"But the Moon government is increasingly rocking the Korea-US alliance and trust relationship," he said.
After the party meeting, however, Yoo sought to downplay differences with Park.
"I welcome a summit that is helpful to denuclearization, but there should not be a relaxing of sanctions or the Korea-US alliance developing a crack due to a summit," Yoo said. "What Park said has a similar point."(Yonhap)