The leader of South Korea’s biggest opposition party said Japan’s release of treated water from the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant is an affront to humanity, even as his rival President Yoon Suk Yeol supported it.
(Bloomberg) — The leader of South Korea’s biggest opposition party said Japan’s release of treated water from the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant is an affront to humanity, even as his rival President Yoon Suk Yeol supported it.
Lee Jae-myung, leader of the Democratic Party, called on Tokyo to halt further releases. “The issue of discharging polluted water is a provocation to all of us, the people of the Earth,” he said in a Bloomberg News interview Thursday.
Political wrangling has erupted after Yoon, a conservative who defeated Lee in the race for the country’s top office, stood by Japan’s decision to discharge over a million tons of treated radioactive water into the sea. While the plan has been ruled to be in line with global safety standards, it hasn’t assuaged the concerns of China and South Korea. Surveys show most South Koreans oppose the move and on Thursday, China banned all Japanese seafood imports.
Read: Why Japan Will Release Fukushima Water Into the Sea: QuickTake
“It is difficult to agree with the statement that it is scientifically safe,” Lee said from his office. “If it’s safe, why don’t they use it in their own country?” He added that Yoon’s government hasn’t done enough to address concerns of the people.
The two political rivals will battle it out again at nationwide elections in April when Lee’s Democratic Party will try to keep its majority in parliament. Lee has been hampered by a series of legal issues that raised questions about his leadership in the party and could cloud its performance at the polls.
Lee was indicted in March on charges including breach of duty and bribery. He has been in court and questioned by prosecutors several times after that. Some prominent party members are concerned Lee has become a liability and may not be able to focus his attention as he deals with legal matters ahead of the vote, said party lawmaker Kim Jong-min.
Prosecutors this week charged Lee with third-party bribery in connection with a company that allegedly transferred about $3 million illegally to North Korea to facilitate a Lee visit to Pyongyang, Yonhap News Agency and other media reported.
Lee denied the charges, saying his opponents are using this as political leverage.
“It seems to me that the intention is to try to defuse or mitigate the incompetence and the failures of this administration and its violations of the people through these judicial attacks,” Lee said.
Support for the Democratic Party has waned since the current conservative government took office in early May 2022, sliding to 30% from 41%. Yoon’s ruling party has also seen its support drop to 36% from 40%, according to Gallup Korea surveys.
While Lee has fervent support among the country’s left-wing, his national backing is weaker. A separate Gallup poll in June showed 60% disapproved of Lee’s role as leader of the Democratic Party while 32% approved.
If Yoon’s People Power Party takes control of parliament, the conservative group is likely to push through economic policies that include taking on powerful labor unions, reducing regulations on businesses as well as tax cuts for companies and on real estate transactions.
Lee said he is focused on policies aimed at improving livelihoods and narrowing income inequality. He also backed a universal basic income. Critics contend the handouts are a populist move that could add to the country’s debt.
“I believe the sooner we introduce it, the less painful life will be for our citizens,” Lee said of the universal basic income, adding that rolling it out at 1 million won ($760) per person a year for a start is “completely doable.”
Read: Bank of Korea Keeps Rate Restrictive as It Looks to Jackson Hole
Here are other highlights from the interview:
“There are aspects of our relationship that have become so adversarial that it’s really hurting our economy.”
“We need to try to separate the military-security issues from the economic issues a little bit more.”
“The relationship between national debt and household debt is actually inversely proportional, but we’ve taken it to the extreme of shifting the responsibility for running the economy to households.”
“Even though we are constantly competing and confronting each other, we should never give up our efforts for peace. In any case, we are in such a geopolitical position that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is closely related to the situation around the world, so it is important for us to have a strong defense and security system — along with cooperation from our neighboring countries.”
–With assistance from Shinhye Kang and Emily Yamamoto.
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