Who is Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s new president?


Veteran politician, 64, positioned himself as candidate qualified to reunite the country after divisions of Park Geun-hye’s era

Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, and his wife Kim Jung-sook outside a polling station in Seoul, South Korea.
Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea, and his wife Kim Jung-sook outside a polling station in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Having lost to Park Geun-hye in South Korea’s 2012 presidential election, Moon Jae-in has become the chief beneficiary of the abuse-of-power scandal that engulfed his erstwhile opponent.

Moon’s victory in the race to the presidential Blue House in Seoul could herald an era of rapprochement with North Korea, and an unlikely meeting of minds with Donald Trump over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The 64-year-old left-leaning liberal positioned himself as the only candidate qualified to reunite the country after the bitter divisions that opened up over Park’s allegedly corrupt relationship with her longtime friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil.

While Park sat in detention awaiting trial on charges that could lead to her being sentenced to life in prison, Moon tapped into the country’s appetite for change, opening up a double-digit lead over his closest rival, the centrist Ahn Cheol-soo.

In a month of rising tensions on the Korean peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, Moon has criticised the hard line pursued by Park and her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, pointing out that a decade of conservative rule had done nothing to arrest the regime’s nuclear programme.

Significantly, North Korea indicated that Moon was its favoured candidate, with state media recently calling on South Korean voters to “punish the puppet group of conservatives” associated with Park.

Eager to court the older conservative voters who consigned him to a narrow defeat five years ago, Moon has shown himself to be a pragmatist. He has stopped short of overtly criticising Trump’s aggressive tone during the most recent crisis on the Korean peninsula, and has declared that he and the US president are “on the same page” in regarding the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience” as a failure.


Working-level “talks about talks” with North Korea are a possibility, according to Moon’s foreign policy adviser, but, like Trump, he has so far ruled out a summit with Kim Jong-un unless the regime commits to abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Although Moon was critical of Washington’s “undemocratic” rush to deploy its missile defence system in a South Korean village late last month, he has said only that he would “review” its future if elected president.

He also supports the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint North-South project that was regarded as a symbol of cross-border cooperation until it was “temporarily” closed in early 2016.

Given the speculation that North Korea could be preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear test in just over a decade – a move that the White House has hinted could invite military retaliation – it is easy to forget that Tuesday’s vote, called seven months early, was initially prompted by issues closer to home.

Moon has promised to reform South Korea’s family-run conglomerates – or chaebol – whose shady ties to senior politicians were exposed by the Park scandal, and to address pressing domestic problems such as rising inequality and youth unemployment.

The eldest son of a refugee from North Korea, Moon can claim to have played a role in significant moments in South Korea’s modern history.

As a young conscript in South Korea’s special forces, he took part in a mission following the infamous axe murder incident inside the demilitarised zone in 1976.

After a career as a human rights lawyer, he served as chief of staff to the then president Roh Moo-hyun, whose pursuit of his predecessor Kim Dae-jung’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with Pyongyang Moon hopes to emulate – this time as South Korea’s leader.

This entry was posted in South Korea and tagged , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

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