Ban’s Korea visit raises questions

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Ban’s Korea visit raises questions

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon kicks off his trip to Korea today, interest builds as to whether he will make contact with President Park Geun-hye loyalists while he attends the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity.

With his 10-year tenure as chief of the United Nations coming to a close this year, observers are searching for any indication as to whether Ban will run in next year’s presidential election. Park loyalists especially have been reaching out to Ban to recruit him for the 2017 presidential race, especially following the April 13 general election defeat by the Saenuri Party, which lost its majority in the National Assembly.

Ban arrives on Jeju Island on Wednesday and will later that evening attend the closed-door welcome dinner hosted by Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo at the 11th Jeju Forum at Seogwipo. Key Saenuri lawmakers are expected to attend the dinner, including Chung Jin-suk, Saenuri’s floor leader, Rep. Na Kyung-won, who served as head of the outgoing National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Lee Jae-young.

Ban is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and Jeju Governor Won Hee-ryong. Prime Minister Hwang and Secretary-General Ban will attend the 80-minute opening ceremony of the Jeju Forum on Thursday morning, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The UN chief, who previously attended the forum in 2009, will give a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the forum, which is expected to be attended by some 4,000 participants, including leaders of politics, economy, culture and media to discuss the theme of “Asia’s New Order and Cooperative Leadership.”

Earlier this week, Hwang and Ban met for the first time and held a 10-minute talk on the sidelines of the two-day inaugural World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday during which Seoul promised to raise its annual aid to the UN humanitarian relief fund to $2 million. But no remarks of a political nature were said to have been exchanged. Ban departs Jeju later Thursday to Japan and will attend the Group of Seven summit in Ise-shima through Friday. He will then head back to Seoul late Friday and plans to spend Saturday with his family, according to his aide.

Ban recently announced that he will attend the Rotary International Convention in Goyang, Gyeonggi, then visit the Andong Hahoe Folk Village, a Unesco World Heritage site in North Gyeongsang. He will then take part in the 66th UN Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organizations in Gyeongju on Monday to wrap up his six-day trip.

Ban, a native of North Chungcheong, joined Korea’s Foreign Ministry in 1970 and served as foreign minister from 2004 to 2006 under the Roh Moo-hyun government. Ban took office as secretary general in January 2007 and his second five-year term as the UN chief runs through December.

But during an annual dinner at the Korea Society in New York last week, he evaded a question about whether he plans to enter politics next year, explaining that he still has seven months left as UN chief.

Hong Moon-jong, a key senior figure in the pro-Park faction, said in a radio interview last week, “Secretary-General Ban is a constant, not a variable, for the Saenuri Party.”

Park Jie-won, the People’s Party floor leader, was critical of Ban’s wish-washy attitude toward a presidential bid, telling reporters Tuesday, “He may run for president, he may not; he may half be from the Saenuri Party, he may half be from the opposition.”

BY SARAH KIM, PARK YU-MI AND YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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