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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Dec. 21)

All News 07:08 December 21, 2020

Forgetting our priorities

The United States has expressed deep concerns about the recent passage in the National Assembly of a bill aimed at banning sending propaganda leaflets across the border. Given its obvious infringement on the freedom of speech, the act railroaded by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) through the legislature will most likely emerge as a topic of contention between South Korea and America. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any legislation restricting the freedom of speech.

On Thursday, Rep. Gerry Connolly, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement critical of the passage last week of the controversial act in Korea. In the statement, the Democrat, who co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Korea, said, "I am concerned about the Korean National Assembly's recent vote to criminalize sending printed materials, auxiliary storage devices, money and other items through the inter-Korea border and through third countries like China to North Korea."

The controversial law also bans anyone from sending messages to North Korea through loudspeakers or electronic boards on the border because of potential threats to residents in the border area. Such a ban was unthinkable under conservative administrations as it limits the freedom of speech. The liberal administration has been yielding to North Korea's pressure.

Rep. Connolly is not alone in criticizing the government. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan body in the Congress, plans to hold a hearing on the controversial law early next year. Michael Kirby, former chair of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (COI), predicted a conflict with Joe Biden's new administration which prioritizes freedom of expression.

The Moon administration is turning a deaf ear to warnings from Washington. Harry Harris, U.S. Ambassador to Korea, reportedly expressed concerns to DP lawmaker Kang Chang-il, a designate for Korea's ambassador to Tokyo, following similar messages by Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on his trip to Seoul on Dec. 8. Not only the U.S. Congress but also the government has started to suspect the Moon administration's motivation.

Under such circumstances, diplomatic friction between the two allies seems inevitable. And yet, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said last week that freedom of speech is not an absolute value. Her denial of such essential democratic values shows how detached she is from reality. The Moon administration is in agony over the deadlock in inter-Korean relations. But freedom and human rights are more important at home.

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