Former S Korea President's memoir stirs up intense criticism

Former S Korea President's memoir stirs up intense criticism
Former South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in this handout picture received from the South Korean Presidential Press Service July 4, 2011.

Former president Lee Myung-bak is taking flak from the ruling and opposition parties, as well as the incumbent government, for revealing sensitive diplomatic anecdotes in a soon-to-be-published memoir.

Critics say that it is too early for a former president - who left office just two years ago - to publish a memoir, and that disclosing details of behind-the-scenes talks with top foreign officials could affect the current government's foreign relations.

Lee's side, however, countered that the 800-page memoir to be published next Monday was written to help the current government understand what happened during the preceding administration. It also argued there was "no principle that bans a former president from revealing secret inter-Korean contacts."

The memoir, entitled "The President's Time 2008-2013," includes information about his administration's diplomacy with Pyongyang, Beijing, Washington and Tokyo. Lee even detailed the failed negotiations to arrange an inter-Korean summit, claiming the North demanded a huge amount of food and cash in return.

He also used the memoir to defend his much-criticised "resource diplomacy" - a reason why critics say the memoir was politically motivated as the National Assembly is currently preparing for a parliamentary probe into the costly diplomatic drive.

Leaders of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy launched a salvo of criticism, calling his publication of the memoir "inappropriate and irresponsible."

"What a former president is supposed to do is to embrace and console people. If he does not have the willingness to do so, it would be better for him to just sit silently," said NPAD leader Moon Hee-sang during a meeting with party officials.

"I hope he will be cautious (about his words and action)."

NPAD floor leader Woo Yoon-keun also berated Lee for publishing the memoir, saying it did not include any expression of regret over his resource diplomacy, which has yet to yield tangible results.

"Citizens are surprised by his book full of self-praise. His drive for overseas resource development is going to cost a whole lot of money, and has become a white elephant swallowing up taxpayers' money," Woo said during the party meeting.

"Lee should appear at the National Assembly to address all the suspicions surrounding his policy drive and give detailed explanations."

Cheong Wa Dae also joined the criticism, expressing regret over Lee's comments about President Park Geun-hye's opposition in 2009 to a reversal of a plan to relocate two-thirds of administrative departments to Sejong City in South Chungcheong Province.

He said in the memoir that Park opposed his plan to reverse the project to keep her potential political rival Chung Un-chan in check. Chung, then prime minister and a potential presidential contender in the conservative camp, spearheaded the move to reverse the relocation plan.

"Lee's argument is based on misunderstandings rather than on facts," a senior presidential official told reporters, declining to be named.

"The issue surrounding Sejong City is about an agreement that the ruling and opposition parties reached in 2005 for balanced regional development. Later in local, parliamentary and presidential elections, the party (to which Park and Lee belonged) also pledged to carry out the plan."

Diplomacy experts pointed out that should all Korean presidents disclose unofficial summit talks two years after leaving office, foreign leaders may feel reluctant to talk heart to heart about delicate diplomatic issues with the Korean president.

Dismissing the criticism, Kim Du-woo, who served as a chief public affairs officer for Lee, said the former president decided to publish the memoir as he felt the need to let the current government know how inter-Korean and other external relations were managed.

"As the heads of the National Intelligence Service, Foreign Ministry and other agencies have changed, we need to inform (the current government) of how things progressed in the previous administration," Kim told Yonhap.

Regarding disclosures about the failed negotiations to bring about an inter-Korean summit, Kim said, "Until when do you have to leave our citizens unaware of (what happened between the two Koreas)?"

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