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[Editorial] Lee's 'simple' views

By Korea Herald

Published : March 29, 2024 - 05:31

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Lee Jae-myung has said and done many shocking things, so nothing is surprising anymore. But the fact that the leader of the main opposition party cares so little about what is happening around the world perturbed many South Koreans this week.

During a stump speech in Dangjin, South Chungcheong Province, on March 22, Lee said the Chinese aren’t buying South Korean products because they don’t like Korea.

“Why does (the Yoon Suk Yeol administration) harass China? Just say ‘xie xie’ (to China) and say ‘xie xie’ to Taiwan,” he said, with a hand gesture expressing gratitude, to which several in the crowd laughed and cheered.

“Whatever happens in the Taiwan Strait, or whatever happens between China and Taiwan, what does that have to do with us?”

So either he doesn’t know that a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait would directly affect security on the Korean Peninsula as well as the South Korean economy, or he is pretending not to know. Ships carrying South Korea’s major export and import items including crude oil from the Middle East pass through the Taiwan Strait and the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines. Thus, in the case of China’s naval blockade of Taiwan, many South Korean industries will be paralyzed. If China invades Taiwan, US forces in Japan and South Korea will be deployed, raising the chance of North Korean provocations or attacks on the South.

Huanqiu Shibao, a newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party's flagship paper, the People's Daily, wrote about Lee’s remarks in its March 25 issue, saying he strongly criticized the Yoon administration’s policy on China and Japan. A related post on Lee’s remarks was among the top searches on Baidu, which is the Chinese equivalent of Google. The articles on and video of Lee were met with countless Chinese comments praising Lee as “smart.”

One can’t help but question his view of the world. During his presidential election campaign in 2022, Lee said he would stick with the foreign and North Korea policy of the former Moon Jae-in administration which began with largely emotional expectations for inter-Korean relations that quickly flopped with Pyongyang’s abandonment of anything to do with Seoul after its talks with Washington broke off.

The latest decisions of Lee’s party to join hands with the successors of a group that was convicted of plotting an insurrection also raised question marks and alarms. A satellite party affiliated with the Democratic Party assigned as its candidates for proportional representatives people recommended by the Jinbo Party, which is widely believed to be a successor to the Unified Progressive Party. The UPP was disbanded by the Constitutional Court in 2014 after its key members were convicted of plotting an insurrection to aid North Korea in the event of armed hostilities.

Also, five people who had strongly denied that the North attacked the South Korean Cheonan naval ship in 2010 are running on the Democratic Party’s ticket in the April 10 general election under Lee's leadership. The bereaved families of the 46 sailors killed in the torpedo attack on the Cheonan demanded an apology from the five people during a memorial service on March 26, the 14th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

Maybe Lee really doesn’t care. He may think, what does any of that have to do with him? As long as he can get people to vote for him, through whatever means or tactics he can find or devise, perhaps nothing else matters to Lee.