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President Yoon Reaffirms Anti-Communist Position as Controversial Mao Statue Taken Down from Korean Ceramics Exhibition

On Sept. 12, the second day of the 2023 Korea-China Ceramics Exhibition held at the South Korean National Assembly, a ceramic bust of Mao Zedong—former leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—was briefly displayed, setting off a wave of public dissent. The statue was quickly taken down by event organizers, but the incident has reignited political and public debate.

Kang Si-bin, the deputy spokesperson for South Korea’s ruling People Power Party (PPP), described the momentary exhibition of the Mao bust in the National Assembly as “deeply regrettable.” The ceramic statue was inscribed with both Chinese and English labels, referring to Mao as a “savior.”

The presence of the bust has been particularly criticized as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. Critics argue that it is highly insensitive to display a bust labeled “savior” of a person who is widely considered to be a war criminal who led forces against South Korea, resulting in an enormous loss of life.

During the Korean War in the 1950s, initiated by the Communist Party of Korea, Mao ordered 2.4 million Chinese troops to assist North Korea. The conflict led to approximately 180,000 casualties among South Korean and U.N. troops, the majority of whom were fighting against Chinese forces.

The exhibition was co-organized by Kim Min-chul, a member of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Party, along with other institutions, such as the Chinese Embassy in South Korea. It was intended to celebrate the 31st anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Kim has since admitted to being unaware of the inclusion of the Mao bust, labeling it as “inappropriate.” He announced that “plans are in place to remove the statue, ensuring it will not be part of the afternoon’s opening ceremony.”

In a related statement, PPP spokesperson Mr. Kang took to Facebook to reiterate that the Korean War caused immeasurable suffering for South Korea and urged that the country “must never again glorify war criminals under any circumstance.”

The incident has further fueled existing public discourse, including the recent controversy surrounding South Korea’s Gwangju city’s use of national funds to establish a historical park in honor of Chinese Communist hero Zheng Lucheng—an issue that has also attracted considerable criticism.

Public Outcry Over Use of National Funds

Gwangju City’s planned 4.8 billion won (approximately $3.61 million) investment to create a Zheng Lucheng Memorial Park is sparking outrage among South Korean citizens. This comes after an estimated 11.7 billion won (about $8.8 million) has been spent over the past decade to commemorate Mr. Zheng, stirring intense political debate and widespread calls for the project’s cancellation.

Born in Gwangju, South Jeolla Province, South Korea, Zheng Lucheng relocated to China at 19 to join the anti-Japanese group Heroic Corps. Eventually, he became a CCP member and a Chinese citizen. Known as the “Father of Military Songs,” Mr. Zheng composed numerous anthems praising both the CCP and Mao Zedong. His compositions, including the “Military Anthem of the People’s Liberation Army” and “March of Korean People’s Army,” remain in use today by Chinese and North Korean military forces.

Gwangju Mayor Kang Gi-jung, who formerly served as Chief Secretary during the Moon Jae-in administration, has advocated for the memorial park. He argued that Mr. Zheng was not only an anti-Japanese resistance figure but also hailed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a promoter of Sino-Korean relations. Moreover, Mr. Kang suggests the park could serve as an attraction for Chinese tourists.

Conversely, Park Min-sik, South Korea’s Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, denounced the project in late August. “The notion of dedicating a historical park to Zheng Lucheng, who can be perceived as either a ‘Chinese Communist Hero’ or a ‘North Korean Hero,’ is unacceptable,” said Mr. Park. He went on to say that he would risk his ministerial position to “halt any projects glorifying those considered enemies of South Korea.”

Yoon: Zheng Lucheng Memorial an ‘Attack on South Korean Identity’

President Yoon Suk Yeol has joined the growing opposition against the proposed Zheng Lucheng Memorial Park, calling it a “serious issue that undermines South Korean identity.” He urged not only the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs but also all relevant departments to take immediate and thorough action.

Mr. Yoon emphasized the need for a comprehensive investigation into the allocation of government grants and budgets across multiple departments, including the Ministry of Interior and Safety, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism.

Since his inauguration, Mr. Yoon has remained vigilant against communist ideologies. Speaking at a conference on democracy and peaceful reunification held in late August, he denounced communism as a threat to liberal democracies. “Communist totalitarian forces and their zealous supporters often engage in psychological warfare, manipulating information to destabilize free societies. This is how they sustain their existence,” Mr. Yoon stated.

He added that the survival of communist regimes is threatened when nearby democratic nations prosper: “Communism, founded on deceitful ideologies, will find it increasingly difficult to sustain itself if surrounded by thriving democracies.”

In mid-August, Mr. Yoon highlighted the deceptive tactics employed by communist forces, saying they “often masquerade as democratic, human rights, and progressive activists to perpetuate their misleading and morally bankrupt agendas.”

Mr. Yoon underscored the need for vigilance, advising, “We must neither be deceived nor yield to the tactics of communist totalitarian forces, their fervent adherents, or their opportunistic allies.”

It’s worth noting that even during his electoral campaign in February 2022, Mr. Yoon had openly expressed his aversion to communism. He warned against the subtle efforts to steer South Korea towards socialism and stated unequivocally, “I hate communism more than anyone else.”

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