Prime Minister-designate Moon Chang-keuk was engulfed in controversy Thursday over his past remarks that critics say showed his erroneous understanding of history and disparaged Koreans.
The controversy baffled President Park Geun-hye as Moon was tapped after Ahn Dae-hee withdrew his nomination amid criticism that he allegedly raked in a high income through special favors in connection with his previous Supreme Court job.
Moon’s contentious remarks came from a lecture that he delivered at a Seoul Christian church in 2011. He said that it was the “Lord’s will” that Korea became Japan’s colony and suffered from national division, as the country needed its share of tribulations to overcome its “laziness.”
“As I said earlier, the symbol of the people of Joseon (1392-1910) was laziness. They were lazy, lacking a sense of independence and were inclined to rely on others … all this remains in our DNA,” he said in the lecture reported by media.
Prime Minister-nominee Moon Chang-keuk (Yonhap)
“Given our (Koreans’) attitudes, we would have become communized if the Lord had given us full independence.”
Moon has also taken much flak for his past columns. In 2009, the former conservative journalist wrote two columns critical of late former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, who are respected for their efforts to improve inter-Korean ties and promote liberal values.
The Prime Minister’s Office tried to calm the escalating criticism of his religious remarks, saying the media reported on them out of context and failed to properly grasp his lecture, which was to note that Korea’s checkered history was the main driver of the country’s advancement. The office also stressed that the lecture was a religious one designed for church members.
“(Moon) meant to tell the audience that the trials and tribulations in Korea’s history are truly what has made Korea strong,” the office said in a press release.
Moon, himself, expressed regrets over the controversy regarding his remarks.
“I wrote the controversial columns as a free writer who used to be a journalist, and delivered the lecture at the church as a religious man. Thus, they could be somewhat difficult to understand from the standpoint of the general public,” he said.
“Should I be confirmed as prime minster, I will conduct my duty as a civil servant in a balanced, fair way. I will clearly explain my will and direction at the confirmation hearing.”
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy called on President Park to immediately cancel her nomination and apologize to the people.
“If Park had picked Moon even though she knew of his understanding of history, this would be connected to her own historical perception and reveal serious problems in (Cheong Wa Dae’s) candidate recommendation and vetting system,” said NPAD spokesperson Park Gwang-on.
Criticism also came from within the ruling Saenuri Party. Six first-term Saenuri lawmakers pressured Moon to decline the nomination.
“Those remarks make me wonder if (Moon) is a citizen of the Republic of Korea. There should be a candid explanation as to his understanding of history,” said Saenuri Rep. Chung Moon-hun during a meeting of party members.
The Kim Dae-jung Peace Center and Roh Moo-hyun Foundation also joined the criticism, demanding Park cancel her nomination.
“It was a regrettable nomination that rejects people’s calls for communication and social harmony,” said the two sides in a joint statement. “Should the Park government be one that upholds the people’s wishes, it should retract the nomination.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)