Opposition party blocks ratification of Panmunjom Declaration based on costs

Posted on : 2018-09-13 16:51 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
LKP’s position similar to that of Grand National Party during Roh Moo-hyun admin
Kim Byeong-jun
Kim Byeong-jun

“The government is giving the National Assembly a vague bill for 470 billion won [US$419.8 million], the amount it says implementing the Panmunjom Declaration will cost, and is asking us to approve and ratify that declaration. If the Moon Jae-in administration wants the National Assembly to ratify the declaration, it needs the courage to provide accurate details about how taxpayers’ money is going to be used.” —a statement by Lee Yang-su, spokesperson of the Liberty Korea Party, issued on Sept. 12, 2018

“The 2008 budget says that about 290 billion won [US$259.02 million] will be required, but in a certain sense, you could say this is just a formality, and we don’t know, and haven’t even been given an estimate, of how many trillions of won this will cost. Because of the huge fiscal outlay this would entail, it absolutely requires a national consensus.” —comments by Lee Hae-bong, lawmaker from the Grand National Party, in the minutes of a plenary session of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee on Feb. 13, 2008

The South Korean government submitted a bill to the National Assembly on Sept. 11 asking it to approve and ratify the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, but for two days now the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has been expressing its opposition to ratifying the declaration because of the costs.

This is the same attitude exhibited by the Grand National Party (the forerunner of the Liberty Korea Party) when the Roh Moo-hyun administration submitted a bill to the 17th session of the National Assembly in 2008 asking it to ratify an agreement reached in the first inter-Korean prime ministers’ meeting about implementing the Declaration for Peaceful Prosperity and the Development of inter-Korean Relations (the 2007 North–South Summit Declaration).

In the bill requesting the ratification of the Panmunjom Declaration, the government states that 417.2 billion won (US$372.63 million) of funding will be necessary to move forward with related projects next year. The main uses of this funding will be connecting and modernizing the roads and railways (295.1 billion won [US$263.47 million] in grants and loans); forestry cooperation (113.7 billion won [US$101.51 million]); social, cultural and sports exchange (20.5 billion won [US$18.3 million]); divided family reunions (33.6 billion won [US$29.99 million]); and operating the inter-Korean liaison office (8.3 billion won [US$7.45 million]).

Among these projects, the government is planning to loan North Korea money to cover the cost of repairing and upgrading the North Korean stretches of the roads and railways and to provide grants for forestry cooperation; social, cultural and sports exchange; and divided family reunions. As to why the costs were not broken down per year, the government said that “It’s not feasible to provide a yearly estimate of costs until we’ve carried out on-site surveys of North Korean territory and set up financial assistance measures through detailed inter-Korean agreements in each area.”

But for two days in a row, this kind of explanation has been attacked by the LKP as an excuse for shoveling money into North Korea. On Sept. 11, the party released a statement that said, “An inter-Korean agreement containing a vague budget has never being ratified by the National Assembly before. Since road and railway projects require a huge expenditure of taxpayers’ money, the National Assembly must review this thoroughly from the perspective of the public. If the government nevertheless submits a bogus bill, it will run into serious trouble. As representatives of the people, the National Assembly must be treated with basic courtesy.”

The party continued its criticism on Sept. 12: “So far, there has been absolutely no meaningful progress toward the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program. In this situation, the Panmunjom Declaration is tantamount to the public signing a blank check for the government’s economic cooperation projects with North Korea regardless of any real progress toward the North’s denuclearization.”

The party’s attitude is exactly the same as it was ten years ago. When the Roh Moo-hyun administration asked the National Assembly to ratify the agreement that resulted from the inter-Korean prime ministers’ meeting in 2008, the Grand National Party (GNP) opposed the ratification bill because it didn’t provide a “concrete estimate of costs” and hadn’t secured “public consensus.”

During a meeting of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee in Feb. 2008, GNP lawmaker Kim Gwang-won voiced his opposition to ratifying the agreement as follows: “There needs to be a big picture for inter-Korean relations. You have to create an action plan, make the plane precise and create a body to carry out the plan. And on top of that, the leader needs to exercise some leadership.”

Nature of inter-Korean relations makes it difficult to determine exact costs of projects

The LKP’s attitude is provoking criticism. Because of the nature of inter-Korean relations, it’s not easy to come up with a specific budget, and when projects are launched, the National Assembly also has a chance to review the budget necessary for each project.

“The Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act requires that the government gain the National Assembly’s approval for any fiscal outlay, but demanding the exact figures isn’t consistent with the spirit of the law. The Liberty Korea Party’s demand for concrete figures is a partisan action,” said Song Gi-ho, an attorney with MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society.

This echoes the criticism made by Kim Byeong-jun, then chair of the Liberty Korea Party’s emergency committee, during an interview with a news website in 2016: “Politics is becoming too partisan. Even now, we need to be crossing the aisle to talk about how we can move inter-Korean relations toward peace, but we’re not doing that.”

By Lee Jeong-hun, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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