South Korean President Moon: A balancing act
 
Moon Jae-in became the President of South Korea on May 9, 2017. Photo: AFP
 
While South Korea was still haunted by the political scandal which led to the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, liberal Moon Jae-in won the presidency with many regarding him as the savior of a country divided by politics. 
 
Moon, who once spent time in jail for protesting against the dictatorship of the father of his predecessor and worked as a human rights lawyer, has impressed his supporters with his likable image and a balanced foreign policy since the presidential campaign.
 
A chief of staff of former President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon is seeking to ease the Korean peninsula tensions which have escalated due to the North’s nuclear and missile development; bring China-South Korea relations back on the track of healthy development which was hindered by the deployment of the US made missile defense system (THAAD) system; as well as find a way to deal with its alliance with the US while keeping peace in the Northeast Asia region. 
 
Man of the people
 
Putting aside politics, one of the biggest differences between Moon and his predecessor is the former’s down-to-earth image and open-mindedness to different voices.
 
A reporter who regularly reports from Cheong Wa Dae and declined to be named remembers that Park’s briefings were mostly reading from a script with nearly no chances for reporters to ask questions, while the current administration is much more “easy-going”.
 
The reporter was echoed by Cao Mingquan, who is the head of the Chinese Korean Association and was once a Congress nominee under Park’s administration. Cao says that Park often dictated her messages in a “top-down” style instead of communicating with the Congress, which tended to create tensions between the government and the Congress. 
 
Cao who was once a supporter of Park left his former party after Park agreed to deploy THAAD in South Korea.
 
 
 
Mr Moon pictured in 1987, had been a human rights lawyer and leader within the pro-democracy movement before elected as the President of South Korea. Photo: EPA
 
Moon, who said he “will be the president for all South Koreans” the day he won the presidency, advocates openness, transparency and communication, and is open to all media questions. He also invites reporters to hike with him during weekends, trying to make access to the president easier.
 
Moon has called for eliminating unfairness in society and reforming South Korea’s huge family-run conglomerates, known as chaebols, which dominate the country’s domestic economy, by appointing economists in crucial positions in the Blue House. 
 
What’s more, he has invited his opponents to play some key role in his administration, which shows his determination to eradicate corruption, said Cao. 
 
A poll at the end of June showed that around 80% of the South Korean public are satisfied with Moon’s administration, and among the young supporters, mostly are aged from 20 to 30 years.  
 
However, Kwak Young-kil, president of Seoul based Aju News Corporation, said the less-than-three-month period is too short to judge a person’s ability to run a country, though he admitted that Moon’s amiable image and peace overtures contributed to his high approval rating. 
 
“To comment on his presidency, we should at least wait for one year … The results might probably be known next spring,” said Kwak. 
 
Dream vs. reality 
 
As chief of staff to former president Roh Moo-hyun during Roh’s term from 2003 to 2008, Moon was part of an administration that pursued increasing political and economic contact with North Korea in an effort of keep peace. Moon himself is an outspoken advocate of the Sunshine Policy adopted by former president Kim Dae-jung, which is aimed at engaging and disarming North Korea through diplomatic dialogue, humanitarian aid and joint economic projects.
 
In a speech made last month in Berlin, Moon proposed that the two Koreas mutually suspend hostile acts along their tense border on the July 27 anniversary of the armistice treaty that ended the three-year Korean War in 1953 and also offered to hold reunions of families torn apart by the war on October 4, Korea’s lunar fall harvest holiday and the 10th anniversary of the second inter-Korean summit. 
 
Moon’s speech is so far the first complete public speech about his administration’s policy toward North Korea which has yet to show its official response to Moon’s proposal. 
 
Several experts including Li Jiacheng, researcher of Liaoning University, and Lee Sang Gi, former defense attache of the South Korean embassy in China, think that while Moon’s proposal is perfect, it’s hard to implement. 
 
The first reason is that it will take much more time and energy for Moon to rebuild mutual trust between South and North Korea after nearly one decade of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye’s administrations. 
 
Secondly, Moon’s efforts to promote inter-Korean peninsula dialogue are not welcomed by South Korea’s conservatives, who regard North Korea’s nuclear and missile program as the biggest threat to South Korea and suggest that while resuming dialogue is acceptable, the Sunshine Policy is not. 
 
Beyond that, what should also be taken into consideration is the United States which once blamed South Korea for its tolerance toward North during the former administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. 
 
Art of balancing 
 
Besides complicated domestic issues and inter-Korean conflicts, Moon is also haunted by the fact that nearly all the country’s former presidents have ended badly - either the former presidents or their family members and top aids were in entangled in scandals near the end of their terms or after leaving the office. 
 
A close friend of Moon and professor of Kyonggi University of South Korea, Park Sangchul believes Moon is fully capable of reversing this trend. He said Moon, who was elected when the country was severely hurt by political corruption, is a president that the people desperately want and has the ability and strength to put the disrupted politics back to normal. 
 
The reason, in Park’s words, is that Moon is a man who knows the “art of balance” and a man “who looks soft outside, but is strong inside.” 
 
Park remembers once he and Moon agreed to have a drink two years ago when Moon was still working in the party. Moon, according to Park, who was frustrated at that time due to a low support rate inside his own party, could have put off the date, but still kept his promise to meet with Park. It was one of the most difficult times in Moon’s career, Park said, but he still talked with ease and frankness, trying not to worry people around him. 
 
Park said that was one of the qualities which make him believe Moon is the kind of person who knows how to deal with the relationship between himself and the outside world, especially when things get complicated. 
 
“Doing politics in South Korea is very difficult. There is not only fierce competition among different parties, sometimes you also have opponents inside your own party. Beyond that, there are different social communities and religions,” Park said. “That is why South Korea needs a leader who can be both soft and strong, and knows how to manage his own emotions.”
 
 
Mr Moon, pictured here with his North Korean relatives, dreams of visiting his mother's hometown with her. Photo: EPA

Related Stories
Share this page
Touched Sympathetic Bored Angry Amused Sad Happy No comment

South Korean President Moon: A balancing actBeijing slams US intrusion near NanshasChina expanding overseas investment oversight to state sectorChina to wage war against Ponzi schemes amid worries about social unrestDaan Roosegaarde: A Dutch artist’s mission to clear smog from Chinese citiesUS beef sales face hurdles in ChinaMan's death sparks public outcry over lax regulation of Internet firmsTrump threatens China with new trade war, Beijing appears unmovedPatience has 'bottom line', India toldWill unmanned stores take off in China?
< Prev Next >