|President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting with senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday. Yonhap|
Moon says opposition's claims 'instigate conflicts, political retrogression'
By Do Je-hae
The ruling bloc is going all out to defend itself against escalating suspicions that the Moon Jae-in administration attempted to initiate the construction of a nuclear power plant in North Korea in 2018.
Cheong Wa Dae and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) are lashing out at the main opposition People Party of Korea (PPP) for raising the allegations ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-elections for Seoul and Busan, claiming it was re-engaging in the politics of "northern winds" often used by conservatives during election season.
President Moon called on the political circle to refrain from outdated political wrangling, in response to the rising calls from the opposition to clarify exactly whether there was any mention of a nuclear plant building project during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at Panmunjeom in April 2018.
"At a time when the people are already struggling (from the coronavirus pandemic), we should not instigate conflict and make politics regress through outdated tactics. I urge the political circle to find better ways to cooperate in improving the peoples' lives," Moon said during a meeting with senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday.
The presidential office said it would consider taking legal action immediately after PPP interim leader Kim Chong-in remarked Jan. 29 that the ruling bloc's actions were "benefiting the North" when he first raised the suspicion about the nuclear power plant project. "It is a reckless political offensive meant to delude the people," a senior presidential aide said Monday.
Regarding the allegation that Moon handed a USB memory stick containing details of the plant project to Kim, Cheong Wa Dae and people who were presidential aides at the time denied this, saying the USB contained other economic development plans the two Koreas could pursue together. A current aide said Cheong Wa Dae may disclose part of the contents of the USB if needed.
The hardline stance from Cheong Wa Dae is seen to stem from a sense of urgency that the unforeseen political row over the alleged plan to build the nuclear plant in North Korea could possibly hamper the ruling party's chances of winning in the upcoming by-elections, and consequently expedite a lame-duck presidency with Moon's term finishing in May 2022.
The DPK has also strongly refuted the opposition's claims.
"Every election season, the conservative opposition party has fabricated northern wind cases," DPK floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon said during a party meeting, Monday. "Such absurd allegations are detrimental to our democracy."
Unification Minister Lee In-young also underlined that the main opposition's allegations were motivated by the election. "From a politician's point of view, my thinking was, 'Are they doing this because of the election?'" Lee said during a radio interview, Monday. "There was no mention of nuclear power plants in reports by the industry ministry."
The industry ministry, which has been at the center of the controversy, said Sunday that it had reviewed the possibility at the working-level and that it was not the official position of the government. But suspicions remain about why the ministry reviewed such a project without fully weighing its feasibility.
The PPP said it will seek a National Assembly investigation and a special counsel if Moon refuses to clarify the contents of the USB device.