Presidential front-runner Moon Jae-in refused to publicly call North Korea a main enemy of the state, not because he does not think so but because there is no benefit in it for his country, those close to the candidate said Thursday.
"A person seeking to become the next president, if elected, may be the person who has to personally talk with North Korea to establish peace between the divided Koreas and also work to peacefully reunify the two," a key campaigner for the liberal presidential nominee told Yonhap News Agency.
Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea. (Yonhap)
The remarks came hours after the presidential candidate from the Democratic Party refused to call Pyongyang the main enemy of his country in a nationally televised late-night debate that involved four other presidential candidates.
They were Ahn Cheol-soo of the center-left People's Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party, Yoo Seong-min of the splinter conservative Bareun Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party.
The question about whether Moon considered North Korea the country's main enemy came from Yoo, who noted the communist state is described as the main enemy by the Defense Ministry.
Ahn, currently trailing front-runner Moon by only a few percentage points in opinion polls, apparently sought to seize the moment, not hesitating to call North Korea the main enemy.
"Now the South and North Korea are in a confrontation. Under such circumstances, North Korea is the main enemy," he said in a meeting with the Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club in Seoul, claiming the country's Defense Ministry also depicts Pyongyang as such in its defense white paper.
The Defense Ministry, however, earlier explained it has been describing the North only as an enemy, also in its defense white papers, for some time, in what many saw as an apparent attempt not to provoke North Korea.
Moon apparently assumed a similar stance when he answered it was not appropriate for him or any other presidential candidate to label North Korea the main enemy.
"I believe such a description is inappropriate for a presidential candidate to say. For the Defense Ministry, it is its job, but for a president, it is not something desirable to say," he said.
His remarks could still backfire as they came amid growing military tension here over what South Korean and US military intelligence have called a possible North Korean nuclear test in the near future.
They may have also raised questions among many voters here who have been told by Moon's conservative opponents that the liberal presidential hopeful may be pro-North Korea.
Moon's campaigner, while speaking on condition of anonymity, repeated the candidate only sought to unnecessarily provoke North Korea.
"It means a president will not be able to ask North Korea to hold dialogue after declaring the North the main enemy," he said. "Also, there is a need to separate North Korean people from the North's communist regime."
The five leading presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of their second TV debate broadcast April 19, 2017, by local broadcaster KBS. They are (from L) Rep. Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party, Rep. Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party. (Yonhap)
A spokesman for the Democratic Party later noted the country's Constitution also recognized North Korea as a subject of peaceful reunification with the South.
"The North is in fact our enemy because we are technically at war with North Korea. What else can it be? But at the same time, our Constitution stipulates North Korea as a subject of peaceful reunification. If a political leader does not recognize or acknowledge such a discrepancy, the person and his/her ruling philosophy are seriously defective," Rep. Park Gwang-on said in a press release.
The chief spokesman for the party said Moon, if elected, will order his defense minister to be fully prepared to counter any provocation from the enemy, but at the same time tell his foreign minister to seek ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue politically, diplomatically and peacefully.
"Thirdly, he will tell his unification minister to keep in mind international sanctions against the North but seek ways to ease military tension on the Korean Peninsula through North-South Korean dialogue," he said.
Ahn, the presidential candidate of the center-left People's Party, acknowledged the discrepancy, calling it a source of dilemma for all.
"Our dilemma lies in the fact that North Korea is our dialogue partner in achieving our objective of peaceful reunification while at the same time it is our main enemy," he said at the meeting with TV reporters in Seoul. (Yonhap)