Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, the front-runner in the presidential race, came under heavy fire from his rivals during a live televised debate Wednesday.
While conservative candidate attacked Moon over his alleged contact with North Korea about a restrictive United Nations resolution, a progressive contender accused him of being ambiguous about the deployment of a controversial US antimissile battery.
Citizens gathered at Seoul Station watch the presidential candidates' live television debate on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The top five presidential aspirants in the May 9 election engaged in their second televised debate since formal campaigning began and the first one to be broadcast live. The previous debate was pre-recorded.
The two-hour debate, hosted by KBS, was marked for its unscripted format, allowing all participants to engage in a free-for-all debate.
The program consisted of two sessions, the former on foreign affairs and national security and the latter on social affairs, the economy, education, and culture. In each session, the candidates were asked a common question, after which they were allowed to challenge each other at will.
The top five presidential aspirants hold one another's hand ahead of their live television debate held Wednesday. (From left) Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea, and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party. (Yonhap)
Yoo Seong-min of the conservative Bareun Party was first to turn loose on the liberal front-runner, mostly concerning the dispute that Moon sought Pyongyang’s opinion on a 2007 UN resolution on North Korean human rights ahead of a vote.
“In our last TV debate last week, I asked you six times and you said that (the allegation) was not true, yet earlier in another program back in February, you said yourself that you inquired about the North’s stance through the National Intelligence Service,” the minority conservative runner said, addressing Moon.
The dispute over whether Moon and the former liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration had adopted a pro-North Korean policy has long been a point of difficulty for the liberal candidate, especially since a related story was revealed through the political autobiography of a former foreign minister last year.
“What I did was to have the NIS run its international information network so as to find out how North Korea may react (to the UN resolution),” Moon said, denying any direct contact with Pyongyang.
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea. (Yonhap)
The biggest issue of the national security debate was the installment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. The US-led antimissile battery is intended to deter North Korea’s nuclear provocations but has also triggered a fierce backlash from neighboring China.
Moon, who earlier opposed to the deployment, recently turned to conditional approval, claiming that the details should be decided by the incoming government.
“I was perplexed by Moon’s expressions such as ‘strategic ambiguity’ or ‘strategic prudence’ as these are words of a critic, not of a political leader,” Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive minority Justice Party, said to Moon.
“As presidential candidate, Moon should first make it clear to the people whether he considers the deployment to be beneficial for national interest.”
She also accused the Democratic Party, the largest negotiating body in the National Assembly, of ambiguity in the initial stages of the dispute.
Sim also turned on Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, who shifted his ground on the issue citing the “rapid change in the situation.”
“In the beginning, I had opposed (THAAD) as the (former) Park Geun-hye administration had damaged the national interest by skipping the communication process,” he said.
“But as North Korea is continuing its military provocations, the deployment has become inevitable, so we should work on persuading China (to stop its economic retaliation).”
Hong Joon-pyo of the hard-line conservative Liberty Korea Party, usually known for his outspoken tone and choice of words, remained relatively reticent on Wednesday, letting others engage in their war of words.
His question to Moon was whether he would, as president, abolish the National Security Law, which includes regulations and sanctions related to support for the communist North Korean regime.
When Moon answered that some of its clauses should be “improved,” Hong argued that Moon had attempted to eradicate the law altogether back in 2003 during his years as presidential chief of staff.