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[Editorial] Dubious qualifications

Lawmaker Youn attends a memorial service hosted by pro-North Korean group in Japan

By Korea Herald

Published : Sept. 6, 2023 - 05:30

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Youn Mee-hyang's qualifications as a lawmaker are questionable.

The independent lawmaker attended an event Friday in Tokyo organized by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, a pro-North Korean group of Zainichi residents in Japan, abbreviated as Chongryon, to commemorate Korean victims of the Kanto Massacre in the wake of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

Chongryon Chairperson Ho Jong-man, who was granted the title of "hero" by North Korea, and other leaders of the group were present. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a telegram to Ho in February, celebrating his birthday and calling him North Korea's "eternal partner." A newspaper published by Chongryon effectively publicizes the North Korean regime.

In front of attendants including Youn, a senior Chongryon official delivered a memorial address reportedly referring to the South Korean government as "a cabal of puppets" and criticizing the trilateral cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the US. She sat through the event.

On the same day in Tokyo, Mindan, or the Korean Residents Union in Japan, which is Japan's other main group of Zainichi residents, but whose members have adopted South Korean nationality, hosted a memorial service for the same incident, sponsored by the South Korean Embassy in Japan and the Overseas Koreans Agency under the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Youn did not attend this event.

South Korean and Japanese lawmakers who were invited through the Korea-Japan parliamentarian union attended the Mindan memorial service. Youn says she was not invited, and a Mindan official told a South Korean media outlet that Mindan does not invite lawmakers individually but welcomes any lawmaker willing to attend. In March of this year, she and her three other colleague lawmakers had attended a Mindan-hosted event to commemorate the March 1 Independence Movement, without being invited. If she had decided to do so, she could have attended the Mindan memorial service without any problem.

But she attended an event held by an organization that negates the national identity of South Korea. The South Korean Supreme Court recognizes Chongryon as an anti-state group. Youn effectively engaged in a pro-North Korean activity.

More shocking is that she received protocol assistance from the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She requested it via the National Assembly Secretariat. She is said to have received assistance in entrance processing and transportation from the South Korean Embassy in Japan. Then she attended a pro-Pyongyang event. Few could understand the situation.

The National Assembly Secretariat says Youn has been to Tokyo at her own expense but she is said to have clarified to the secretariat her trip was for "lawmaker's diplomacy." She did not disclose she would attend the Chongryon event. This may constitute a violation of related law. The Ministry of Unification considers fining her for failing to notify the government before attending a pro-North Korean event.

The ruling People Power Party asked the special ethics committee of the National Assembly to decide whether she deserves disciplinary action, including expulsion from the Assembly. The Democratic Party of Korea has stayed silent.

Her behavior is not only her individual matter. The Democratic Party, which effectively made her a lawmaker, is responsible, too.

As an independent, Youn does not belong to any party. The Democratic Party expelled her from it in 2021 after the court fined her for embezzling citizens' donations to Korean women who were taken as Japanese military sex slaves when Korea was a Japanese colony (1910-1945). At that time, she led a civic group working for their sake.

Originally she had become a National Assembly member as a proportional representative of a satellite party of the Democratic Party. At that time, the Democratic Party acknowledged her achievements in drawing attention to these Korean women's issues.

Youn has not clarified yet the real reasons why she attended the Chongryon event. She must admit her behavior was very inappropriate, give a full account of it, apologize and take responsibility. The Democratic Party should know many will think it is in the same class as Youn if it opposes expulsion of her from the assembly. Youn and the party must not try to slide around the incident this time, either.