Former Blue House aide says probe into N. Korean fishers’ repatriation is a distraction

Posted on : 2022-07-19 17:07 KST Modified on : 2022-07-19 17:07 KST
Youn Kun-young criticized the Yoon administration’s apparent move to target the 2018 inter-Korean summit through its attacks
Youn Kun-young, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, speaks about the 2019 repatriation of North Korean fishers at his office in the National Assembly on July 18. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)
Youn Kun-young, a lawmaker with the Democratic Party, speaks about the 2019 repatriation of North Korean fishers at his office in the National Assembly on July 18. (Kim Bong-gyu/The Hankyoreh)

Regarding the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s attempt to make an issue out of the repatriation of two North Korean fishers in November 2019, Democratic Party lawmaker Youn Kun-young, who served as the director of the Blue House office of state affairs planning and monitoring during the Moon Jae-in administration, stated that “pressing down on the accelerator will instantly lead to a plunge down a cliff.”

During an interview with the Hankyoreh at the National Assembly building, Youn said, “Yoon’s presidential office is going all-in on shaking up and kind of bullying the previous administration,” criticizing that “it’s reasonable to suspect an ulterior motive of trying to shift attention from the Yoon administration’s ever-falling approval rating due to failed personnel and economic policies and to temporarily evade responsibility.”

Regarding the Ministry of Unification’s release of a video capturing the two fishers’ repatriation, Youn commented, “It’s sad that the Ministry of Unification, which is in charge of affairs related to peace on the Korean Peninsula and unification, waded into the center of political conflict and is acting like a tool for power on its own.”

“A few high-ranking officials are muddying the waters,” he added.

Regarding the Yoon administration and the People Power Party’s point that forcibly returning those who attested to their intent to defect in handwriting to North Korea amounts to a human rights violation, Youn said, “Handwritten documents attesting to [the fishers’] intent to defect naturally exist.” Still, he refuted, “The Moon administration at the time could not be certain of the sincerity of [their] defection request.”

He continued, “After murdering [16 fellow crew members], [the fishers] attempted to run away to Chagang Island in North Korea, and when they escaped to open waters after their accomplice was arrested, they ran into the South Korean military and fled for two days,” arguing the sincerity of the two men’s defection request was deemed suspect based on this fact.

Regarding the presidential office’s claim that the Moon administration concluded the two individuals to be violent offenders based on insufficient investigation, Youn explained, “[The fishers’] statement matched with preliminary intelligence gathered by the South Korean military through special intelligence.” He further stated, “Deportation was decided upon based on overall considerations, including the fact that if [the fishers] changed their testimony [regarding their murder of fellow crew members] at a South Korean court, punishing them through the justice system would not be possible.”

Regarding the point that 23 non-political criminals who have committed serious crimes such as murder have been accepted for defection previously, Youn countered, “I want to ask in return whether there ever was a case in which someone who killed 16 people was accepted [for defection].”

The ruling camp has also been claiming that the two North Koreans were forcibly deported in order for the Moon administration to be able to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to a Korea-ASEAN special summit, held on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26 in 2019. Youn called this argument “nonsensical speculation,” adding, “North Korean defectors [who entered South Korea] between 2018 and 2019, before COVID-19, numbered roughly 1,000 yearly, so if the Yoon administration and the People Power Party are correct, [South Korea] would have accepted 1,000 defectors while returning two.”

Youn also criticized the Yoon administration’s apparent move to target the 2018 inter-Korean summit through its attacks. The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper recently reported that the prosecution service is attempting to look into whether the flash drive Moon handed Kim during the summit, which reportedly contained video material concerning the “New Economic Map of the Korean Peninsula” initiative, included material about the construction of a nuclear plant in North Korea.

Youn said, “False information without basis is being released through the presidential office and other relevant agencies,” adding, “The USB [flash drive] only contained a blueprint of inter-Korean economic cooperation and did not even include the word ‘nuclear.’” He continued, “The contents of the USB were delivered to then-White House national security advisor John Bolton as well. [. . .] If they included anything concerning a nuclear plant, the White House would have said something.”

Youn raised the concern that the Yoon administration’s behavior may destabilize relationships based on diplomatic trust. “Regarding intelligence alliances or military alliances, with intelligence leaking and being abused politically, South Korea will inevitably be cast in doubt concerning its ability to be a trustworthy partner,” he shared.

He asked, “Wouldn’t [the Yoon administration’s behavior] lead to perceptions that sharing intelligence with South Korea in all fields including diplomacy and security may result in intelligence being leaked?”

“Whether in summits or ministerial meetings, the most important thing is trust, but if [partners] have to worry about what to say, that would ultimately lead to incredible damage to our national interest,” Youn went on. “The party most overjoyed by South Korea’s intelligence system itself collapsing right now may well be North Korea.”

By Joh Yun-yeong, staff reporter

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