SEOUL, April 4 (Xinhua) -- Major South Korean presidential candidates have shown a clear division over policies on security and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), exposing their identities as conservative or liberal.
Conservative politicians here tend to take a hard-line stance toward the DPRK's nuclear program, while sometimes arguing even for nuclear armament, an eye-for-eye reaction escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Liberal candidates make a case for engagement with the DPRK to denuclearize the peninsula, preferring dialogue and diplomacy to confrontation and tensions in inter-Korean relations.
The primaries of five key political parties ended on Tuesday with the center-right People's Party fielding its former head and co-founder Ahn Cheol-soo as an official candidate. The presidential election is slated for May 9.
Moon Jae-in of the biggest Minjoo Party, frontrunner in recent opinion polls, won a sweeping victory on Monday to be the party's candidate in a race to elect a successor to former President Park Geun-hye who was impeached and arrested.
The runner-up to Park in the 2012 presidential election was former chief of staff to late President Roh Moo-hyun, leading the Minjoo Party before Ahn defected from it and founded his own party in early 2016.
Moon and Ahn were divided over the deployment in South Korea of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.
The center-leftist Moon said a decision on THAAD should be made by next government, stressing the importance of public discussions and a parliamentary approval as well as diplomatic efforts with China and the United States.
Ahn, who can be seen as a conservative in security issues and a liberal in economic affairs, claimed no reversal of the THAAD decision. He said it was an agreement between countries that should be respected by next leader.
Such divide was clearer among other candidates. Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party claimed an immediate stop of any THAAD deployment procedures, depicting the decision as the worst catastrophe in security and diplomatic affairs committed by the impeached Park.
Hong Joon-pyo of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party and Yoo Seong-min of the splinter Righteous Party said the THAAD system should be installed in South Korea as early as possible to defend from the DPRK's nuclear and missile threats.
Seoul and Washington agreed in July last year to deploy one THAAD battery in southeast South Korea by the end of this year. The deployment date was brought forward as the presidential election came closer.
Two mobile launchers and other first elements of THAAD were delivered to a U.S. military base here early March. One THAAD battery is composed of six mobile launchers, 48 interceptors, an X-band radar and the fire & control unit.
Meanwhile, conservative and progressive candidates showed different approaches to DPRK issues.
Moon and Sim adhered to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while arguing for an early resumption of the inter-Korean factory park in the DPRK's border town of Kaesong that was closed down following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January last year.
Hong and Yoo insisted on considering the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on the peninsula against the DPRK's nuclear program, saying the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex can only be made possible if progress is made in the peninsula's nuclear issue.
Ahn opposed the redeployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea, but he said the Kaesong factory park will be reopened only when negotiations make progress on the peninsula's denuclearization.