Democratic Party presidential nominee Lee Jae-myung responds to questions from the foreign press at an event on Thursday organized by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul. (National Assembly pool photo)
Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, promised Thursday to tackle the North Korean nuclear issue by meeting with US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss conditional sanctions relief and step-by-step, simultaneous action.
The former governor of Gyeonggi Province made the comments while unveiling a plan for policy on North Korea that’s grounded in a “pragmatic line centered on the national interest” after being invited to speak at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club at the Korea Press Center in downtown Seoul.
“I will help the South Korean government take the lead in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. Following the Moon administration, the next administration will need to have more agency and be more proactive in its role as a mediator and problem solver,” Lee said.
“I will also respond firmly to unilateral violation or abrogation of inter-Korean agreements. I will say what needs to be said. A trusting conversation about development is predicated on thorough compliance with and implementation of inter-Korean agreements.”
Lee said he would carry on the Moon administration’s North Korea policy while also taking on a pragmatic approach.
When a reporter from US broadcaster ABC asked whether Lee plans to take a softer or harder line on North Korea, Lee said he preferred “to accurately analyze the objective situation when the strategy is being chosen and select the method that would benefit peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
“If necessary, we could simultaneously use a carrot and stick, or we could adjust the weight of the two policies,” he said, while adding, “Based on the current situation, I think a softer approach is more effective than a hard line or sanctions.”
“I will make a proactive effort to improve relations Korea-Japan relations,” Lee said, outlining his approach to relations with Korea’s neighbor.
“If Japan upholds the apology and contrition for colonization expressed by former Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, we can definitely move forward with a future-oriented bilateral relationship. I will take a two-track approach that deals with social and economic exchange separately from the territorial and historical issues that have become diplomatic obstacles.”
Lee said, “If we keep territorial issues separate from political issues and keep economic exchange and cooperation separate as well, our two countries can certainly find a way to reach an agreement.”
Lee also addressed the fact that Japanese companies’ assets have been seized in accordance with a Korean Supreme Court ruling awarding damages to the victims of forced labor during World War II. “We need to recognize the practical issues that come up with other countries,” he said.
“Under the Korean Constitution, there is complete separation between the legislative, judicial and executive branches. But in Japan, the executive and judicial branches aren’t completely separate, and the implementation of judicial decisions can be altered at the request of the executive branch,” he said.
Because of that separation of powers, Lee said, it is “impossible” for the executive branch to tell the judicial branch not to carry out a ruling involving the offending companies and the civilian victims.
“If Japan recognizes the differences between our objective situations and offers a sincere apology, it would certainly be possible to find a practical solution to the remaining question of compensation,” Lee added.
Lee also responded to a reporter from Japan’s Kyodo News who cited “concerns that Japan-Korea relations could get even worse if you become president given your hard-line remarks about Japan.”
“The idea that I have a hard-line attitude toward Japan is a misunderstanding resulting from only looking at one side of things. Korea and Japan are geographically close and are in a mutually dependent relationship, and they need to find a way to cooperate practically with each other and help each other out,” he said.
By Shim Wu-sam, staff reporter
Please direct questions or comments to [email@example.com]