Friend or foe: Dangerous roots of could-be unification minister’s ideology

Posted on : 2023-07-20 17:01 KST Modified on : 2023-07-21 17:23 KST
Kim Young-ho is slated to appear before the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee for his confirmation hearing on Friday
Kim Young-ho, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s nominee to be minister of unification. (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)
Kim Young-ho, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s nominee to be minister of unification. (Shin So-young/The Hankyoreh)

This Friday, the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee will hold its confirmation hearing for Kim Young-ho, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s nominee to become the next unification minister. Speaking to reporters after his nomination, Kim said, “When it comes to policy on North Korea, principles are the most important thing.”

“Going forward, the Unification Ministry will adopt principled-based and value-oriented policies,” Kim added, underscoring that there’s “a need to be selective when considering which inter-Korean agreements are feasible.”

Kim’s comments hinted at a broad policy overhaul at the Ministry of Unification. But what will these changes be? A professor of political science at Sungshin Women’s University, Kim, 63, has voiced his opinions on North Korea and public policy in media columns, his personal YouTube channel, and through his participation in Korea Freedom Congress, a conservative group.

Kim has frequently propagated the argument that since North Korea is an “enemy,” inter-Korean relations are “hostile.” Kim has called Korea “a battleground between a liberal democracy and a totalitarian regime” and vowed that he will “fight anyone who sides with the North’s totalitarian regime.”

In short, he has declared himself an ideological warrior.

“North Korea is the enemy”

In his book, “The US-China Battle for Hegemony and the Crisis of the Republic of Korea,” Kim defines North Korea as “an enemy that represents an existential threat to our survival.”

In another of his books, “Liberal Democracy in South Korea and Its Enemies,” Kim writes “The relationship between North and South is a hostile relationship.”

“Since North Korea is a totalitarian state, a lax or forgiving approach will not work,” he argues.

In Kim’s worldview, inter-Korean relations represent a warring relationship in which one party must die for there to be a definitive conclusion. He generally views efforts toward reconciliatory dialogue, cooperation or coexistence with North Korea as a farce.

Article 4 of South Korea’s Constitution delineates the need to “formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification” of Korea. The Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Korea have both defined North Korea as “an anti-state organization and a partner in dialogue and cooperation,” which directly clashes with Kim’s worldview. In other words, Kim’s approach to North Korea essentially runs counter to the Constitution.

Sees destruction of North Korea as only solution to nuclear issue

In a column published by the online media outlet PenNMike on Feb. 17, 2019, Kim stated that “the fundamental solution to the North Korean nuclear issue will only be possible through the destruction of North Korea’s totalitarian regime.” This position is basically a complete denial of the significance of the five inter-Korean summits; the two North Korea-US summits; the 1994 Agreed Framework between the US and North Korea signed in Geneva; and the Joint Statement of the fourth round of the six-party talks of Sept. 19, 2005.

In another column for PenNMike published on Apr. 18, 2019, Kim wrote of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration as the result of South Korea having “completely fallen for North Korea’s propaganda campaigns.”

Considering the views that Kim has expressed publicly, it seems safe to assume that his approach to reunification is predicated on North Korea’s downfall.

“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,” Kim writes.

In a 2018 book titled “Liberal Democracy in South Korea and Its Enemies,” Kim states, “‘The Kim Koo pattern’ [of attempts at reconciliation] is based on a romantic ethno-nationalism that blinds people to the fact that inter-Korean relations are an existential antagonism between adversarial systems.”

In the same book, Kim praises Syngman Rhee as “the greatest intellectual that Korea has produced” and characterizes independence activist Kim Koo as a trickster who masks the hostile nature of inter-Korean relations.

Redbaiting progressives and liberals as “supporters of totalitarianism”

Kim has labeled South Korean progressives as “anachronistic reactionaries who deny the achievements of South Korea’s modernization and industrialization and who defend the totalitarian regime of North Korea” (Korea Freedom Congress founding mission statement). He has characterized the conflict between conservatives and progressives as a “fictional scheme,” claiming that it is really “the battle between liberal democracy and totalitarianism.”

In a PenNMike column published on June 17, 2018, Kim called the leaders of the 2016-2017 candlelight protests that brought down Park Geun-hye “anti-Republic of Korea forces.” He claimed that Park’s impeachment was “effectively rolling out the red carpet for subversive forces who wish to topple the South Korean system.”

In “Liberal Democracy in South Korea and its Enemies,” Kim claims that “lawmakers who joined the candlelight rallies contributed to a movement that seeks to destroy the Republic of Korea’s liberal democracy and sympathizes with totalitarianism.” He effectively denounced both the legislative and judicial branches of government as treasonous.

Kim’s views on North Korea are consistent with his oath as a founding member of the Korea Freedom Congress, in which he swore to “fight the treasonous forces who sympathize with North Korea’s totalitarian regime and adopt its ‘united front tactics,’ and to protect the Republic of Korea’s liberal democracy.”

In response to a written parliamentary inquiry regarding Kim’s comments and intentions, Kim acknowledged that he occasionally uses “harsh language,” but claimed, “If I am appointed as the unification minister, I will conduct myself accordingly as a public official and consider my words carefully.”

Friend or foe?

Where do the roots of Kim’s extremist views lie? Kim has stated that he views politics as “the art of clearly defining friend and foe” (PenNMike column, published Sept. 13, 2019). This is essentially an homage to the ideology of German political theorist Carl Schmitt, who described politics as the existential distinction between friend and enemy. As a member of the Nazi Party and an anti-Semite, Schmitt effectively laid the ideological and philosophical foundations for Nazism.

Schmitt was an anti-liberal thinker who described the 1934 purge of Hitler’s political enemies (known as the “Night of the Long Knives”) as the “highest form of administrative justice.”

It is important to note that Kim, who has claimed that “liberal democracy is the best choice for Koreans,” has his ideological roots in an anti-liberal, card-carrying Nazi.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

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