Frontrunner for unification minister’s views on N. Korea criticized as disqualifying by some

Posted on : 2023-06-28 17:27 KST Modified on : 2023-06-28 17:27 KST
The Hankyoreh confirmed numerous controversial remarks by Kim Young-ho, including calling for the “toppling” of Kim Jong-un’s regime
Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se (left) poses for a photo with Sungshin Women’s University professor Kim Young-ho, at the first meeting of the unification future planning committee, which Kim served as director of, on March 15. (courtesy of the Ministry of Unification)
Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se (left) poses for a photo with Sungshin Women’s University professor Kim Young-ho, at the first meeting of the unification future planning committee, which Kim served as director of, on March 15. (courtesy of the Ministry of Unification)

Sungshin Women’s University professor Kim Young-ho, a figure seen as the leading candidate for nomination as South Korea’s Minister of Unification, was confirmed Wednesday to have called for the “toppling” of the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea.

The 64-year-old Kim was also found to have characterized South and North Korea as being in a “hostile relationship.”

Other comments by Kim that were unearthed showed him denouncing the Constitutional Court’s decision in favor of Park Geun-hye’s impeachment as president as having the “result of laying out the red carpet for those seeking to overturn the system,” and characterizing the candlelight demonstrations at the time as “totalitarian.”

Critics are viewing him as unfit to hold the position of minister of unification, which involves implementing policies related to North Korea and reunification.

Sources reported that President Yoon Suk-yeol had internally designated Kim as successor to the current minister, Kwon Young-se, and planned to announce his appointment along with other new ministerial and vice-ministerial appointments on Friday.

“Topple the Kim Jong-un regime”: Hostile attitude toward N. Korea

A political scientist who has researched the Korean War, Kim previously served as Blue House secretary for unification and Ministry of Foreign Affairs human rights ambassador during the Lee Myung-bak presidency. Under the Yoon administration, he has been chairing the Ministry of Unification’s unification and future planning committee.

Known for his “new right” views, he has posted around 2,800 videos to date — roughly 1.5 per day — on his YouTube channel “Professor Kim Young-ho’s Reading the World” since launching it on July 6, 2018.

The Hankyoreh’s investigation found numerous instances in his YouTube videos and writings where he expressed hostile views toward North Korea.

In a contribution to the website Pennmike published on April 18, 2019, he wrote, “The path toward unification will only open when the Kim Jong-un regime is toppled and North Korea is liberalized, so that the political systems in North and South Korea become one system.”

He also said the “North-South Joint Declaration of June 2000 was utterly manipulated by North Korea propaganda and incitement.”

“We need ‘reunification of systems,’ not ‘reunification of the nation,’” he insisted.

In another contribution to the same site on Sept. 13, 2018, he wrote, “The relationship between North and South is a hostile relationship.”

“This is why it is constantly being suggested that President Moon Jae-in’s drive to ‘eradicate deep-rooted vices’ and amend the Constitution is an overreach intended to open the possibility for a federation system with North Korea,” he added.

In addition to running counter to South Korea’s Constitution, Kim’s claims also conflict with the North Korea and unification policies of South Korean administrations since the post-Cold War era began — including Yoon’s.

His characterization of inter-Korean relations as “hostile” and call for opening the path toward reunification by “toppling the Kim Jong-un regime” amount to an argument for absorbing North Korea by force — which is contrary to the official position of the Yoon administration and its insistence that it is “not pursuing unification by absorption.”

It is also in violation of Article 4 of the South Korean Constitution, which explicitly rules out a unification-by-absorption scenario with its provision stating that the “Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the basic free and democratic order.”

Moreover, it conflicts with interpretations of the Constitution by the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, which have deemed North Korea as “both an anti-state group and a partner in dialogue and cooperation” since the ninth constitutional amendment of 1987, which established the principle of peaceful unification laid out in Article 4, and the “special declaration” of July 7, 1988, by then-President Roh Tae-woo.

If inter-Korean relations are defined as “hostile” as Kim describes them, this rules out the possibility of exchange or cooperation.

Indeed, a YouTube video posted by Kim on Oct. 1, 2018, bore the title “Samsung will go bust investing in North Korea.” That video has since been set to private.

“Candlelight demonstrations are totalitarian”: Far-right statements

Kim has also made far-right statements on domestic issues and matters concerning diplomatic relations with Japan.

He denounced the Constitutional Court’s decision upholding Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in 2017 as having the “result of laying out the red carpet for those seeking to overturn the system.”

“South Korean society is now like a damp sponge that immediately turns red the instant a drop of red ink is placed on it — defenselessly exposed to the routinization of totalitarianism,” he declared.

The remarks came in a blog post on June 7, 2018, under the title “How do a handful of candles ‘speak for the entire public’?” In the same piece, he lambasted the candlelight demonstrations as “totalitarian.”

Commenting on a 2018 Supreme Court ruling recognizing Japanese companies’ responsibility for compensating victims of forced labor mobilization, he criticized it as “in thrall to anti-Japanese tribalist thinking.”

The occasion for his remarks was a talk on July 17, 2019, for his book “Anti-Japanese Tribalism,” which caused controversy among historians and in South Korean society at large with its denial of the forcible nature of the Japanese military’s drafting of women into sexual slavery during the colonial occupation.

Critics: “Unfit to be minister of unification”

The presidential office reportedly decided on Kim as a candidate for minister of unification in line with its plan to use human rights issues as a basis for pressuring Pyongyang. On numerous occasions, he has advocated strongly for pressuring the North on human rights issues in order to achieve “liberalization.”

“If we hope to achieve unification, we will need to establish an accurate understanding of the internal reality in North Korea,” a presidential office official told the Hankyoreh on Tuesday.

“It is only possible to establish a vision and strategy for reunification once we understand how the Republic of Korea came about and how it got divided from a perspective of international politics,” they stressed.

At an April 5 meeting to review governance tasks in foreign affairs and national security-related areas, Yoon emphasized that “raising broader awareness here and overseas about the reality of human rights violations against North Koreans is a matter of paramount importance and a way of upholding national security.”

In an interview with the French daily Le Figaro published on June 17, he announced plans to “coordinate with France to raise wider awareness in the international community about North Korea’s severe human rights situation and develop plans for responding to it.”

An official with the ruling People Power Party (PPP) explained, “Under the new minister, the Ministry of Unification will mainly be taking on the role of raising awareness of North Korea’s human rights situation on the global diplomatic stage.”

But there has been an outpouring of criticism that Kim’s perception of inter-Korean relations as hostile and far-right views disqualify him from appointment as minister of unification.

“If a person who clamors on about toppling the Kim Jong-un regime, liberalizing North Korea, and denies the necessity of compensating victims of Japan’s forced labor mobilization becomes minister of unification and starts clamoring on about improving human rights in North Korea, do you think that’s going to resonate?” asked a former minister of unification, voicing skepticism about Kim’s possible appointment.

Multiple former high-ranking Ministry of Unification officials expressed similar doubts.

One former senior-ranking official asked, “How can a person who has rejected the whole raison d’etre of the Ministry of Unification become minister of unification?”

“It makes me wonder if [Yoon] is trying to tank the Ministry of Unification because he can’t do away with it outright,” another former senior official remarked.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer; Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter; Shin Hyeong-cheol, staff reporter

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