Ban’s tour of nation aims at support by conservatives

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Ban’s tour of nation aims at support by conservatives

In the days following former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s homecoming Thursday, the career diplomat has been on a nationwide campaign promoting a presidential bid that has yet to be announced. His itinerary suggests he is wooing conservative voters by touching on national security issues.

Ban’s first activity after a visit to his elderly mother in his hometown in North Chungcheong was to visit the Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, where the wreckage of the ill-fated Cheonan warship is on display.

During the visit on Sunday, Ban made his strongest-yet remarks on national security while expressing his support for the installation of a U.S.-made missile defense system, saying the country was “in a quasi-state of war” with the North.

By suggesting the country was facing real dangers from the Kim Jong-un regime, the 72-year-old presidential aspirant noted the Park Geun-hye government had made the right decision last July to deploy what is known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system despite the risk of economic retaliations from China. Ban said confrontation with Beijing over the Thaad issue could be resolved “through diplomacy” in an apparent reference to a potential role he could play as head of state to appease the neighbor.

Ban elaborated on his quasi-state of war remark on Monday, saying, “Pyongyang is saying it will soon fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, (and such a posture) practically puts us in a quasi state-of war.”

Issues related to national security and anti-North rhetoric are generally used to shore up support among security-conscious conservative voters. A day after Ban’s visit to the naval base, he made a trip to Geoje, South Gyeongsang, home to large, troubled shipbuilders such as Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering and Samsung Heavy Industries. During his visit, he emphasized he could help the collapsing shipbuilding industry in the region by making use of the global network he built during his 10-year-leadership of the UN. His visit was also considered a calculated move to appeal to conservative voters as the majority of Gyeongsang constituents are considered conservatives.

Following his visit to Geoje, Ban paid his respects at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan where the remains of coalition forces who fell in the 1950-53 Korean War were laid to rest, another outreach to conservatives.

Recent polls on Ban’s approval ratings for the next presidential election could provide a glimpse into what led Ban to concentrate on conservative voters. While Ban is thought to be a more favored presidential runner among conservative voters, his approval ratings in the Gyeongsang regions actually turned out to be lower than frontrunner Moon Jae-in’s in a poll conducted by Gallup Korea from Tuesday through Thursday. Ban trailed Moon’s 30 percent support with 22 percent of support from those polled in Daegu and North Gyeongsang, arguably the country’s most conservative region. The former diplomat was also behind Moon in a poll conducted in Busan and South Gyeongsang with 20 percent compared to Moon’s 34 percent.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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