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Envoy to Beijing accused of taking China's side

Oct 02,2017
Opposition parties called on the Moon Jae-in administration to suspend from duty Korean Ambassador to China Noh Young-min over his recent comments ignoring the seriousness of Chinese economic retaliation on some Korean companies.

“Our companies must stop blaming outsiders and keep up their work to get the business going,” Noh said during a luncheon with reporters on Friday. “I heard that Lotte Mart may be pulling out of China because its business investment plan in China had failed and that Lotte Group’s Shin Dong-ju was in a feud with his father Shin Kyuk-ho over the failed plan. Maybe some reporters should look into this.”

Korea-China relations have been strained since Seoul allowed the U.S. to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. China, a key trading partner of Korea, launched massive economic retaliation in return.

Lotte Mart announced last month it would leave the Chinese market. Among Lotte Mart’s 99 branches there, 87 have been closed for over six months after the Chinese government accused the retailer of violating fire and other safety regulations.

“China is right to be concerned about Thaad, because part of its territory fall under the radar of the system, which can cover from 800 to 2,000 kilometers [some 500 to 1,240 miles],” Noh said.

When asked by reporters at the luncheon whether he was being too pro-China, Noh said, “A Korean ambassador to China must understand as much as possible the standpoint of China. For example, if I were posted to Japan, I would try to do the same, though I do not like Japan very much.”

Opposition parties criticized Noh.

“All the people of Korea know that our people and our companies are suffering as a result of China’s economic retaliation,” Rep. Khang Hyo-shang, spokesman of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, said in a press briefing Saturday. “Any Korean ambassador must represent the Korean people and companies, but after hearing Noh’s comments, one wonders what country he is representing.”

Khang added, “The Moon administration had better stop trying to be China’s sidekick.”

“Exports of Korean cosmetics and cars and retail sales dropped some 50 to 60 percent after the deployment of Thaad,” said Lee Heang-ja, spokeswoman of the People’s Party. “I am astounded to hear that Noh thinks all these economic struggles are the result of conglomerates’ internal business failures.”

She added, “Noh’s so-called ability to understand where China is coming from does not help the situation of Korea at all.”

The Bareun Party’s spokesman Lee Jong-chul said, “I am struck by the Moon administration’s foreign policy direction at such a time as this when we are all struggling under the Chinese economic retaliation. Moon had better suspend Noh from duty.”

Moon named Noh Young-min, a former three-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party, as his new ambassador to China in August.

Opposition parties have also been criticizing the Moon administration for selecting the wrong foreign policy experts, like Moon Chung-in, presidential special adviser on foreign affairs and national security.

Moon sparked controversy with his comments last week about how a war with North Korea will not happen even if the “Korea-U.S. alliance breaks down.”

This was not the first time his comments stirred controversy. Ahead of Moon’s first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington in June, Moon Chung-in said South Korea could consult with the United States to scale down joint military exercises and reduce the deployment of U.S. strategic weapons to the South if North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities.

BY YOO SEONG-WOON, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]