Controversy deepens over S Korean PM nominee

Controversy deepens over S Korean PM nominee

Criticism is deepening of the political and historical views of prime ministerial nominee Moon Chang-keuk as he was found in his doctoral thesis to have decried Koreans for harbouring anti-US sentiment in the wake of the watershed democratic uprising in 1980.

The discovery is the latest in a series of verbal and behavioural gaffes that prompted not only the opposition camp but also some members of the ruling party to call for his withdrawal.

The 1980s witnessed a surge in anti-Americanism around the country, which largely originated from the May 18 Gwangju revolt during which hundreds of students were killed by the junta led by Army coup leader Chun Doo-hwan.

The massacre was a milestone in Seoul's struggle for democracy.

But Washington was accused of propping up the ironfisted rule of Chun, who later became president, for the sake of internal stability. An angry public set fire to a number of US cultural centers in Gwangju and elsewhere, while students immolated themselves in protest of then-President Ronald Reagan's support for the dictatorship.

Yet Moon argued that the problem was rather "with Koreans' perspective," saying the country has greatly benefited from its relations with its longtime ally.

"They saw the US not in terms of sober international relations but as an emotional issue," he wrote in the thesis.

He received a Ph.D. in political science in 1993 from Seoul National University with a dissertation on types of conflict in South Korea-US relations since the 1950-53 Korean War.

"At the time, the Korean government and people were trying to extract as much help as possible from the US while seeking to minimise any undesirable results from the relationship," Moon added.

"That was an unbalanced perception as they still want to pick fruit off an American tree for free."

The remarks were widely in line with Moon's views expressed in his other past writings and speeches. During a lecture at a protestant church in Seoul in 2011, he said that Japan's colonisation of the Korean Peninsula was the "Lord's will" and the country needed its share of sufferings to overcome its "laziness."

The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy urged President Park Geun-hye to revoke the nomination, calling the comments "antinational and outrageous."

Despite rising resignation calls, Moon appears to be standing his ground after expressing "regret for the misunderstandings" Thursday. The ruling Saenuri Party calls for giving him a chance to defend his position at an upcoming parliamentary hearing, with Cheong Wa Dae keeping mum.

"We should all ponder what's with having a prime minister who completely lacks national consciousness and historical understanding even today," said Rep. Kim Kwang-jin of the NPAD told a party event in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province.

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