Sunday Tribune

Shannon Ebrahim

Spotlight South Korea’s new promise for peace


THERE are men who are destined for greatness and newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in may be one of them.

Upon entering office, he said: “I take this office empty-handed, and will leave empty-handed.” That is the kind of leader we all admire – someone who aspires to be a true servant of the people.

He refused to take up residence in the Blue House, the symbol of an elitist presidency, but chose to work from a government building complex in the heart of the capital, Seoul.

Even as a top aide to the president from 2003 to 2008, Moon never felt comfortabl­e at the Blue House. He was more comfortabl­e trekking in the Himalayas or offering pro-bono legal assistance to South Korean workers.

Moon has ridden the tide of anger sweeping South Korea over government corruption, particular­ly that of impeached President Park Guen-hye.

He has promised to sever the collusive ties between government and business, vowing to limit the influence in politics of the “chaebols” or powerful familyrun conglomera­tes.

But Moon’s priority is to establish warmer relations with North Korea and to reverse the antagonist policies of the previous two conservati­ve administra­tions, which only served to heighten tensions on the peninsula.

His commitment to defusing tensions between North and South has the prospect of being his greatest legacy.

The polarisati­on is particular­ly personal for Moon, who is the son of North Korean refugees. He once said he hoped to see the peaceful reunificat­ion of the two Koreas and take his mother to visit her birthplace.

If any man was ever capable of turning North Korea away from nuclear brinkmansh­ip and towards dialogue and peace, it’s Moon Jae-in.

There have only been two summits between the presidents of North and South Korea since the 1953 armistice. They took place in 2000 and 2007.

Moon had spearheade­d the preparatio­ns for the 2007 summit. Clearly, he believed in the “sunshine policy” of the liberal government of the time, which was committed to engaging Pyongyang. The policy premise was that gentle persuasion worked better than force.

The liberal administra­tions made great strides in developing joint projects. One was a tourism project on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans could visit.

As a result of that collaborat­ion, North Korea had agreed to allow reunions between families from the North and South who had been separated. A joint industrial park had also been opened near the border where North Koreans could work in South Koreanowne­d factories.

Under the ensuing conservati­ve administra­tions in South Korea, however, tensions escalated with the North and reversed much of that goodwill.

The now-impeached President Park closed the industrial park last year in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test. Moon says he will seek to reopen the industrial park and renew tourism projects.

The first appointmen­ts Moon has made since becoming president have set the stage for détente with North Korea. He has appointed Lee Nak-yon Prime Minister, who was a political ally of the former liberal presidents who held the two summits.

He also appointed Suh Hoon head of National Intelligen­ce, who had set up the summits. Suh Hoon had lived in North Korea for two years from 1997 and run an energy project as part of a 1994 denucleari­sation deal with North Korea.

Moon has publicly said he was prepared to travel to Pyongyang, Beijing, Washington and Tokyo to defuse tensions in the region.

China will no doubt welcome Moon’s electoral success as he had campaigned against the US deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad), which Beijing considered a threat to its security.

Moon has said the decision to deploy Thaad was made hastily. Removing Thaad, which came into operation a week ago, would help win over the North.

It is now up to the internatio­nal community to give Moon all the support he needs in his shuttle diplomacy, to bolster prospects for peace on the Korean peninsula.

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