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Yoon holds 1st meeting with leader of opposition

By YANG HAN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-30 07:51

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) shakes hands with main opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung at the presidential office in Seoul on Monday. HONG HAE-IN/AP

Though no agreement was reached during the first meeting between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and opposition leader Lee Jae-myung, experts said it still represented a positive outlook for future communication.

"The president had a deep, frank and candid conversation with the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party," Lee Do-woon, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said.

Though the two sides did not reach any agreement, there were areas where they shared a general understanding, he said at a briefing after the meeting.

Yoon met with Lee Jae-myung at the presidential office in their first meeting since Yoon took office in May 2022.

The meeting came after the president called the opposition leader on April 19 and proposed to meet for talks following the landslide victory by the Democratic Party, or DP, in the general elections on April 10.

Yoon's ruling People Power Party secured only 108 seats in the 300-member National Assembly.

The meeting lasted over two hours, exceeding the original plan of an hour. But DP spokesman Park Sungjoon said he was disappointed with the outcome as he could not see any change in the government's stance.

Noting that the meeting was conducted in which Yoon responded to Lee Jae-myung's requests, Park said it seems that Yoon did not show any willingness to change the direction of his policies on restoring people's livelihoods, which the DP had insisted on.

Before the closed-door discussion began, Lee Jae-myung made a speech of about 15 minutes, during which he criticized the policies of the government.

He asked Yoon to accept the DP's general election pledge to hand out 250,000 won ($182) each to the entire population, accept a special probe into suspicions surrounding a Marine Corps member's death last year, and a special bill to investigate the Itaewon tragedy that killed 159 people in a Halloween crush in 2022.

Lee Jae-myung also asked the president to resolve allegations against people around him, including his family, which was seen as a reference to first lady Kim Keon-hee, who was involved in a gift scandal.

In terms of the government's plan to increase the medical school admission quota, Lee Jae-myung said the policy direction is correct and the opposition party is willing to cooperate.

David Tizzard, assistant professor of Korean studies at Seoul Women's University, said the meeting is a very important concession, not just in terms of listening to the people, but also listening to the nation and the opposition party.

Noting that Lee Jae-myung's speech was both detailed and wide-ranging, Tizzard said the public focus will be on how the two sides can work to restore disrupted medical services due to strikes in response to the government's plan to increase medical school admissions.

"All of these issues will be incredibly complicated and they will take time to sort out. Whether they will be able to reach agreements remains to be seen," Tizzard said.

However, the meeting is indeed important as the two parties showed that they are willing to come together and cooperate on certain issues although they might be at ideological loggerheads domestically, he said.

YANG HAN in Hong Kong


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