Photo: People Power Party Assembly Member Han Gi-ho. Credit: News1.
The ruling People Power Party 국민의힘 continued pressing the issue of the Moon administration’s repatriation of two North Korean fishermen, but their story was undermined by inconsistencies as the public is tuning out the claims.
In concert with the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration, the PPP had been claiming that in 2019, the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration improperly repatriated two North Korean fishermen who confessed to murdering 16 of their crew members. (See previous coverage, “Desperate Yoon Resorts to Red-Baiting.”)
On July 20, PPP Assembly Member Han Gi-ho 한기호 국민의힘 국회의원 made a potential bombshell claim: the fishermen did not murder anyone, and they were in fact brokers who helped North Koreans escape. According to Han, the fishermen were supposed to help the 16 crew members escape to South Korea, but had to run by themselves on a boat when the North Korean authorities discovered their plan.
But other PPP legislators quickly walked back Han’s claim. PPP Assembly Member Ha Tae-gyeong 하태경, chairman of PPP’s task force for this issue, said Han’s claim is “not the official position of our party” and “there was clear physical evidence that the sailors were murderers.” PPP legislator Thae Yong Ho 태영호, former North Korean diplomat, also called Han’s claim “based on unreliable sources.” Unification Minister Kwon Yeong-se 권영세 통일부장관 also agreed that the fishermen “very likely were murderers.”
Meanwhile, Ha and Thae also had to eat their words when Unification Minister Kwon and Defense Minister Lee Jong-sub 이종섭 국방부장관 confirmed that the United Nations Command 유엔사, which formally controls South Korea’s demilitarized zone, approved the repatriation through Panmunjeom 판문점. Ha and Thae had previously claimed that the UN Command did not give its approval, and the Moon administration circumvented the established protocol by having South Korean soldiers execute the repatriation.
According to a Newstomato 뉴스토마토 poll from July 19 to 20, 58.9% said they approved of the Moon Jae-in 문재인 administration’s decision to repatriate the two North Korean fishermen who confessed to murdering 16 of their crew members. Other polls showed a similar result: in a poll by Next Week Research 넥스트위크리서치, also from June 19 to 20, 55.2% said it was appropriate to repatriate the two North Korean sailors. A RealMeter 리얼미터 poll from the same time period showed 51.1% approval for the Moon administration’s repatriation decision.
In the same RealMeter poll, 53.7% said the repatriation issue was re-ignited because “the current administration intentionally made it an issue in order to turn around the sinking approval rate”; another 8.1% said the issue re-emerged because “Unification Ministry 통일부, Foreign Ministry 외교부, the National Intelligence Service 국가정보원 changed their words with the administration change.” Only 31.5% said “Because the previous administration fabricated the incident because of political reasons.”