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Rival parties divided over Kim-Putin summit

Main opposition calls for inter-Korean dialogue revival, while ruling party warns Pyongyang to halt provocations

June 19, 2024 - 15:45 By Jung Min-kyung
Main opposition leader Rep. Lee Jae-myung, center, speaks at an emergency press conference addressing the heightened tension on the peninsula hosted by the Democratic Party of Korea at the National Assembly in western Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s political sphere on Wednesday was divided over Russian President Vladimir Putin's first visit to Pyongyang in 24 years, and with it the growing concerns of strengthened military cooperation between Russia and North Korea.

The main opposition party leader and ex-unification ministers under previous liberal administrations called for a revival of the inter-Korean dialogue channel to safeguard peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. On the other hand, the ruling party stressed that Pyongyang's denuclearization and a complete end to its military provocations constitute the only paths toward peace.

“By using the framework of the Seoul-Beijing diplomatic security dialogue held the previous day on top of the South Korea-Japan-China trilateral summit (in Seoul late last month), we must restore the inter-Korean dialogue channel,” Democratic Party of Korea Chair Lee Jae-myung said during an intraparty leadership meeting at the National Assembly in western Seoul in the morning.

“True security is a state of peace that requires no battles at all. We must remind ourselves that the strongest and the most capable form of security is the establishment of peace,” he added.

Lee warned that Seoul’s “display of power,” as one of the world’s top five countries by military strength coupled with its strong alliance with Washington, could threaten peace on the peninsula instead of protecting it.

Last week, the US deployed at least one B-1B bomber for joint bombing drills here for the first time in seven years, which took place soon after South Korea and the US jointly staged a large-scale river-crossing military exercise. The allies had staged multiple joint military drills amid heightened tensions on the peninsula due to the North’s recent provocations. Beginning last month, Pyongyang flew hundreds of trash-carrying balloons across the border, while attempting to jam GPS signals near the West Sea border.

Lee stressed the importance of cooperation between the ruling and opposition parties to resolve key security issues, and pledged to contribute to the government’s security policies.

The main opposition then hosted an emergency press conference around noon to address the heightened tension on the peninsula with three ex-unification ministers under previous liberal administrations and Park Ji-won, former head of the National Intelligence Service, in attendance.

The three former ministers echoed Lee on the need to revive inter-Korean exchanges to prevent military conflict and possible war on the peninsula.

"It is time to reconcile the tension on the Korean Peninsula that has been heightening over the past year," said Lim Dong-won, who was unification minister in 2001 under the Kim Dae-jung administration.

"If this sparks a military conflict then it could lead to a possible war on the peninsula. We must alleviate the tension and revive inter-Korean exchanges to prevent war," he added.

The ruling People Power Party in the afternoon said in a written briefing that the ruling party and the government would do everything in their power to protect South Korea, as the party expressed concerns of upgraded bilateral ties between Pyongyang and Moscow.

"North Korea and Russia, which are two nations currently criticized by the international society, are expected to show closer ties in the development of military technology as they agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations as strategic partners," the ruling party said.

"We warn the Kim Jong-un regime in the North that they would have realized what they need for survival are not food and military technology earned through avoiding sanctions imposed by the United Nations. Only complete denuclearization and a halt of their reckless military provocations (would guarantee their survival)."

Several ruling party lawmakers and conservative politicians have denounced the North’s recent provocations against the South since early this month.

Last week, People Power Party Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo called for “strict” countermeasures against the North’s trash-carrying balloons, while another fellow ruling party lawmaker Rep. Na Kyung-won said that the government must come up with “active measures against the North’s wrongful judgments,” in their respective Facebook posts.

The ruling party had been boycotting all plenary meetings held since the term of the 22nd Assembly kicked off last month, against several key unilateral decisions made by the opposition-led Assembly.