[Newsmaker] Minister under fire as opposition chokes on NK’s naengmyeon remark

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Oct 31, 2018 - 17:39
  • Updated : Nov 1, 2018 - 10:02

Taking issue with inaction against a remark by a high-ranking North Korea military negotiator, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party submitted a proposal for the dismissal of Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Wednesday.

It cited the pushing of the inter-Korean railway without ratification of the Panmunjeom Declaration that calls for it, the banning of a defector from covering an inter-Korean meeting in Panmunjeom and an insulting remarks made to businessmen during September’s North-South summit in Pyongyang. 

“We should think about how we shall stabilize peace on the Korean Peninsula while keeping our dignity,” Kim Byoung-joon, the interim chief of the opposition party, said in a meeting Wednesday.

The party criticized Cho’s inaction over the “rude” remarks by his North Korean counterpart, Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Country.

Ri Son-kwon (second from left), chairman of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and a group of South Korean business leaders, eat naengmyeon at the restaurant Okryugwan in Pyongyang on Sept. 19. (Joint Press Corps)

Ri’s remark -- made over a bowl of naengmyeon noodles during the latest inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang -- was disclosed Monday when Liberty Korea Party Rep. Chung Jin-suk questioned Unification Minister Cho about it at an Assembly interpellation session.

“In the last event at the Okryugwan restaurant, where the conglomerate chiefs were invited to have naengmyeon, Ri put on a serious face and said, ‘how does naengmyeon go down your throats?’ Who would say such a thing to their guests?” Chung asked.

The remark is roughly equivalent to “How can you eat at a time like this?”

“I believe Ri used such strong language to tell them off,” Chung said. “It’s not a joke, it’s deliberate and strategic. Don’t you think you should do something about it? I think you need to point their rude language out at least once.”

In response to Chung, Cho said, “My efforts were insufficient. I will bear that in mind.”

The Liberty Korea Party lawmakers, however, continued to raise their voices against Cho.

“National pride has been seriously damaged. Not only the government, but the pride of (South Korean) corporations has also been hurt,” interim party chief Kim said.

On Tuesday, members of the conservative opposition party unanimously agreed to submit the recommendation for dismissal.

Reps. Yun Jae-ok and Kim Seung-hee of main opposition Liberty Korea Party hold the dismissal recommendation to submit to the National Assembly on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

In a statement, the conservative party argued the Unification Ministry violated the freedom of press and basic rights, referring to how Kim Myung-sung, a defector and reporter at local daily Chosun Ilbo, was excluded from the press pool covering a high-level inter-Korean meeting just an hour before the group’s scheduled departure from Seoul on Oct. 15.

Former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said Ri’s remark was “clearly wrong,” but one that reflected his dissatisfaction with the sluggish implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration announced by the leaders of two Koreas on April 27.

“I am not sure if the conglomerate chiefs will make investments in North Korea hearing such remarks. Such words also negatively influence the public sentiment in South Korea,” Jeong said in a local radio interview Tuesday. “There have been several times when North Korea committed a gaffe in past inter-Korean summits, and the representatives would be replaced. There should be some kind of an apology from the North (over Ri’s remark).”

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea lashed back at the conservative opposition’s move Wednesday.

“The Liberty Korea Party’s perverseness is endless and they are only throwing a tantrum,” ruling party Floor Leader Rep. Hong Young-pyo said in a meeting Wednesday.

“The causes cited for dismissal are unreasonable. (Excluding) the reporter was inevitable considering the uniqueness of the occasion, and Cho has already apologized for it. The government also gave many explanations for the ratification.”

After submitting the dismissal proposal Wednesday, the conservative opposition requested National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s cooperation in putting the proposal to a vote at Friday’s plenary session.

According to Article 60 of the Constitution, a recommendation for the removal of a Cabinet member from office can be introduced when one-third or more of the total members of the National Assembly support it.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which holds 112 of the 299 parliamentary seats, was able to submit the proposal.

The proposal should be put to vote at the very first plenary session within 72 hours of its introduction. If it is not put to a vote, the recommendation is automatically discarded.

By Jo He-rim (