Accessibility links

S. Korea Minister Loses Confidence Vote - 2001-09-03

South Korea's Parliament has passed a no-confidence motion against the chief architect of the country's engagement policy with North Korea. The move to dismiss Unification Minister Lim Dong-won comes one day after North Korea offered to resume stalled inter-Korean talks.

The no-confidence motion was swiftly approved Monday by more than half of the 271-member assembly.

In submitting the motion, the main opposition Grand National Party denounced the minister for allowing more than 300 South Korean activists to participate in joint Liberation Day celebrations in communist North Korea two weeks ago. During the weeklong visit, some of the delegates allegedly praised the North Korean government. When they returned to Seoul, authorities promptly arrested seven of them for violating South Korea's strict anti-Communist laws.

Monday's vote is expected to weaken South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's efforts to maintain support for his so-called "sunshine" policy of engagement with Pyongyang. Last year, Lim Dong-won played a decisive role in organizing the historic summit between President Kim and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il and other reunification events.

Political scientist Ok Nim-chung in Seoul says what is happening to Mr. Lim reflects the utter lack of consensus among South Koreans about how to best deal with its northern neighbor. The two countries are still technically at war, having ended the Korean War in 1953 in an armed truce.

"Some don't want the whole sunshine policy," explains Mr. Ok. "Some want to adjust the pace of the engagement policy. Some people say we are just putting too many carrots to the North without any response. But some people argue we need patience in dealing with the North. So, domestic politics now becomes a key factor in deciding the tone of North Korea policy. We will have presidential elections next year so it's a very sensitive issue."

President Kim can legally ignore the National Assembly vote and retain the minister. But analysts say by doing so, he risks alienating Parliament and the stability of his coalition government.

On Sunday, North Korea stunned South Korea by announcing that it was ready to end a six-month freeze on contacts with the South. Pyongyang sent a formal copy of its proposal Monday to Unification Minister Lim. Many analysts and opposition members interpreted the move as an attempt by the North Korean government to save the minister from being sacked. But Pyongyang denies the offer was meant to influence South Korean politics.