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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 25)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 09:24 July 25, 2020

Minister-nominee hearing
Constructive dialogue should lead to realistic approaches

Before the grilling began at his confirmation hearing, Unification Minister-nominee Lee In-young was almost poetic in his opening address as he vowed to bring about "bold change, to turn the clock from the time of North Korea and the United States, to that of North and South Korea." The four-term ruling Democratic Party lawmaker said that if needed, he would serve as special emissary to Pyongyang.

Since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit in 2019, the North has loudly demonstrated its dissatisfaction that U.S.-led international sanctions remain in place, while Washington keeps to the goal of complete denuclearization of North Korea. As we have repeatedly stressed, the burden mainly falls on Seoul to restart Korean talks as well as mediate between North Korea and the U.S. Thus his eloquence and resolution added with his political weight in the Moon Jae-in administration enhances hope amidst the unpredictable lull in inter-Korean relations and North Korea-U.S. ties.

Lee demonstrated however he was realistic by projecting that the current inter-Korean stalemate could continue through the November U.S. election and beyond. But humanitarian exchanges should take place. He said: "Issues related to eating, suffering and things that people want to see before they die" should be independent of political issues. Lee also called for expanding inter-Korean cooperation to matters of disease and disasters, and climate change, much akin to President Moon's proposal during a special address marking his third year in office.

Confirmation hearings at the National Assembly are never an easy hurdle to clear for nominees. At one point, Lee's hearing fell into a dispute over ideological inclinations, something the ruling party decried as anachronistic. As a college student in the 1980s he led an influential, now defunct, left-wing student group, the National Council of Student Representatives. Rep. Thae Yong-ho of the main opposition United Future Party, a former high-ranking North Korean defector, persistently questioned Lee on this asking him if he had renounced North Korea's juche ideology. Lee shot down the opposition lawmaker for lacking sufficient understanding of democracy, saying he was never a believer.

This "constructive dialogue," at the least, should address any lingering doubts some may have had about Lee's National Council days. Lee also successfully stood down other queries from opposition lawmakers regarding the National Council activities, making it irrelevant for the ruling and opposition parties to continue bickering over it.

Instead, the focus should be on Lee's policy of resuming inter-Korean talks, and recognizing the value of Seoul's alliance with Washington, even as he called for a "strategic and flexible approach" in the upcoming joint exercises between South Korea and the United States. It is such realistic flexibility that is required in the complex geopolitical theater Seoul lives in to strategically pursue the peaceful reconciliation of the two Koreas.

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