South Korea Splits along Political Lines

There is a significant split in public opinion here in South Korea now that the Democratic Party, fearing defeat at the hands of the so-called “North Korean wave” in local elections on June 2nd, has questioned the validity of the results of the official investigation even though compelling evidence of North Korean responsibility has supposedly been found. This conspiracy theory made by the Democratic Party and pro-North Korean forces is spreading and thus amplifying the suspicions of citizens.

Following the mad cow disease incident of 2009, South Korean society is once again engulfed in extreme division and confrontation. This split is expected to continue even after the announcement of the investigation results this morning.

During a phone call conversation with The Daily NK on May 19th, Kim Hyung Joon, a professor of Political Science at Myungji University, anticipated a huge impact from the Cheonan incident on the June 2nd election. Professor Kim stated, “The impact of the Cheonan incident on the local elections is going to be very large. The situation will be favorable to the ruling party, as conservatives will gather around the issue of security connected to the economy.”

Kim Hyo Suk, the chairman of the Democratic Party’s own Special Fact Finding Committee on the Cheonan Incident stated on May 19th, “We cannot trust the details of government’s announcement to be made on May 20th.”

Regarding that comment, Jung Mong Joon, the chairman of Grand National Party, stated, “Comments about the North Korean wave are too much. A party which is consistent in its political scheming even when the facts of the case are all but revealed cannot be called a responsible political force.”

For the Democratic Party, having a negative view on North Korean involvement in the Cheonan incident is understandable in terms of political interest. However, the point is that they have grabbed their own ankles and thus limited their options by consistently excluding North Korea’s involvement in the incident from the initial stage.

Also, taking a political position on the possibility of North Korean responsibility by stating that they cannot trust the investigation results, in which domestic and international experts have participated, is going too far.

Woo Sung Ji, a professor at Kyunghee University, commented, “It is a very import issue nationally, and since North Korea is not the type of target which only exists for one or two days, the political community needs to speak with one voice in terms of national security.”

However, the Democratic Party has continuously taken the side of North Korea even beyond arguing about the truth. At the initial stage of the Cheonan incident, Park Ji Won, the leader of the Democratic Party in the house, made statements which excluded the possibility of North Korea’s involvement, for example, “The possibility of North Korea attacking us is low”, and, “After 10 years of democratic government, people will not be caught with chaff.”

Meanwhile, Chung Jong Young, a Democrat assemblyman, has been making comments like, “President Lee Myung Bak’s politics and his failure to use the October 4th Inter-Korean Summit Agreement to establish the West Sea as a special zone of peaceful cooperation… is the cause of the tragedy,” and, “The revival of the primary enemy theory is same as the theory of not hesitating to go to war. I cannot understand how they can bear the shame… They should lay their hands on their chests in shame.”

Regarding the Cheonan incident, Rhyu Si Min, a Democratic candidate for governor of Gyeonggi Province who is closely competing with Kim Moon Soo, the Grand National Party’s candidate, commented, “The sinking does not appear to have been caused by an explosion. The theories of a torpedo, mine, and bubble jet are mere conjecture.”

Also on May 18th, he stated, “The government cannot offer a reasonable explanation on the causes of the sinking of the Cheonan. We need evidence demonstrating that the ship was sunk due to an external explosion and also that the explosion was caused by a North Korean torpedo or mine.”

Therefore, the honest evaluation is that North Korea’s strategy of fomenting ‘internal divisions’ in advance of the local elections on June 2nd by causing the Cheonan incident has been successful. However, as evidence proving North Korea’s involvement keeps appearing, North Korea’s strategy is likely to fail in the end. Speculation suggests that the implications of the event will be huge for the Democratic Party and pro-North Korea groups.

Ryu Dong Ryeol, a Senior Researcher at the Police Science Institute, stated during a phone call conversation with The Daily NK that, “The Cheonan incident should be understood as North Korea’s strategy to pressure and neutralize the base of the Lee Myung Bak administration. If internal disorder aggravates South Korean society, it results in the neutralization of the government, which will put continual pressure on it.”

“Incidents regarding national security occurring prior to local government elections are not helpful for pro-North Korea left wing groups. If North Korea was plotting something, it has failed strategically.”

Ryu also emphasized, “When the full account of the Cheonan incident is announced, North Korea will deny the charge and say it is a fabricated story. Then the South Korean government needs to concentrate its efforts on eradicating the pro-North Korea left wing groups which support North Korea and claim everything is a government fabrication, even if that means leaving North Korea itself on the back burner.”