[Editorial] PPP needs to stop with baseless nuclear plant red-baiting

Posted on : 2021-02-02 16:34 KST Modified on : 2021-02-02 16:34 KST
People Power Party floor leader Joo Ho-young speaks at a general meeting of party lawmakers at the National Assembly on Feb. 1. (Courtesy of press pool)
People Power Party floor leader Joo Ho-young speaks at a general meeting of party lawmakers at the National Assembly on Feb. 1. (Courtesy of press pool)

For several days now, South Korea’s People Power Party (PPP) has launched a red-baiting onslaught over nuclear power plants.

On Feb. 1, PPP floor leader Joo Ho-young claimed the Moon Jae-in administration had engaged in “an act of benefiting the enemy that threatens national security” with its “attempt to give a nuclear power plant to Kim Jong-un, someone who holds nuclear weapons.” This was a reiteration of remarks made on Jan. 29 by interim leader Kim Chong-in, who referred to a “shocking act of benefiting the enemy.”

It’s incredibly irresponsible to continue pushing this kind of red-baiting — especially when it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is little to no evidence to support the claim that Moon sought to provide North Korea with nuclear power in the first place.

The PPP has claimed that the reason the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) deleted a document outlining the possibility of providing nuclear power to the North prior to an audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) was that it “wanted to cover up its plans” to secretly build plants in North Korea. It’s also suggested that confidential information about light water reactors may have been included on a memory stick that Moon gave to Kim Jong-un during their Panmunjom summit.

But the Blue House has explained that the memory stick handed over during the summit was for a “new economic vision for the Korean Peninsula” and included only information about energy cooperation in the areas of hydroelectric and coal-fired power. It included no content regarding nuclear power, the Blue House said.

MOTIE has also refuted the claims, explaining that the document “stated in its introduction that this was an internal MOTIE document examining ideas in anticipation of inter-Korean economic cooperation following the Panmunjom summit.”

In a meeting of Blue House senior secretaries and aides the same day, Moon said, “At a time when people are suffering enough with their livelihoods, I hope [politicians] will refrain from setting politics back by fanning divisions with this sort of antiquated political legacy that ought to be discarded.”

In point of fact, providing North Korea with nuclear power plants is an approach that has been considered ever since the North Korea-US Agreed Framework — signed by North Korea and the US during the Kim Young-sam administration in 1994 — as a way of promoting North Korea’s denuclearization and inter-Korean economic cooperation. Surely there is nothing wrong with simply considering the idea.

Also unrealistic is the idea that the administration sought to circumvent UN sanctions and build a nuclear power plant in secret without discussing matters with the US, which possesses the source technology for light water reactors.

It’s unconvincing for the PPP to offer these kinds of red-baiting arguments based solely on the fact that the MOTIE deleted the document after drafting it, while ignoring all of the historical context and practical conditions. Monitoring and criticizing the administration are crucial roles that the opposition plays — but they need to be based on the facts.

The administration, for its part, needs to dispel any and all apprehensions by disclosing the document in question — provided that doing so does not create any diplomatic or national security issues — and clearly explaining the circumstances under which it was deleted.

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented state of affairs that has caused great suffering for the South Korean public. Right now, people are just struggling to get through the crisis somehow. We can’t have politicians engaging in this kind of wasteful politicking that exhausts the public even more, while helping no one.

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

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