Leading presidential contender Moon Jae-in, left, talks with Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, a presidential hopeful from the second-largest opposition People's Party, during a ceremony to mark International Women's Day at Seoul City Hall, Wednesday. / Yonhap
By Kim Hyo-jin
Moon Jae-in, the leading opposition presidential hopeful, is taking flak from conservatives after he raised questions about the timing of the arrival of some U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery equipment.
The critics said Wednesday that Moon's position is only serving the interests of China and North Korea at a time when a resolute unified voice is needed against them.
On Tuesday, Moon reiterated that any decisions on the deployment should have been left to the next government.
"I don't understand why the government is doing it this way," Moon, the former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), told reporters.
"I believe the next government can make a rational decision that meets the interests of security and the economy through consultations with the U.S. and China. Speeding up the deployment will only leave little room in diplomacy for the next government."
Moon has said repeatedly that the deployment lacks public consensus.
DPK Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae, who is considered an aide to Moon, bristled at the government's move to hasten the deployment procedure.
"The move is intended to make it impossible for the next government to even review the plan," she said Wednesday.
Choo said she will ask the government to seek parliamentary approval and demand the convening of a National Assembly committee to discuss the issue of "procedural transparency."
However, the conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP) claimed Moon is not qualified as a presidential candidate as he disregards national security by sitting on the fence at a critical moment in the THAAD deployment.
"His ambiguity might be working for the interests of North Korea or China but it causes uneasiness among the public," LKP floor leader Chung Woo-taik said.
"There's nothing scarier than a presidential candidate who opposes a military option for self-defense running in the race."
Former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon directed his criticism at Moon, too, arguing his "strategic ambiguity" leaves the political realm divided.
It offers China an excuse to flex its muscle through economic retaliation in opposition to THAAD, he said.
"It is pathetic that opinions in politics are fragmented," Ban said. "THAAD is a representative security issue. On such an issue, both the ruling and opposition blocs should have one voice."
Some DPK members also criticized Moon.
Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung, another DPK presidential contender, urged Moon to clarify his position, saying, "A political leader should be able to persuade the public. As a presidential hopeful he should let the public know his opinion and be assessed by them."
Moon has claimed the decision-making process of operating the THAAD battery itself can be "diplomatic leverage" between Beijing and Washington.
Choi Jong-kun, a Yonsei University professor in Moon's think tank, backed him by saying the Park Geun-hye administration's rush to deploy the anti-missile system propelled Beijing's retaliation.
"The strong-headed approach to the Chinese government allows us little room for negotiation," Choi said.