President ‘Moonshine’Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has earned the nickname “Moonshine” largely thanks to Michael Breen, a British journalist who has covered Korean affairs since the 1980s. After Moon was elected on May 9, Breen wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that South Korea had entered the “Moonshine Era.” The nickname is a portmanteau of the president’s surname and the North Korea engagement policy, the “Sunshine Policy,” of his liberal predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun which Moon has vowed to revive.
Moonshine — a moderated version of the all-giving and all-tolerating Sunshine Policy — was a compromise made toward the end of the presidential campaign to appease Korean conservatives at a time when regional tensions have escalated to their highest with North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un proving to be bolder and more unruly than his father Kim Jong-il.
The new president’s engagement policy, Moonshine, is supposed to be “more realistic” than the rapprochement policy under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, both of whom held summit meetings with Kim Jong-il. Moon had arranged Roh’s summit when he was the president’s chief of staff and now as president wants to mainly “defuse the standoff and avoid war,” according to Breen.
The journalist presumed that Moon wants to play a greater role in defining international policy toward North Korea, which will be difficult as Pyongyang is more interested in stealing the limelight through direct deal-making with superpowers. Breen in his column advised President Donald Trump not to repeat the mistake of his predecessor George W. Bush, who treated his South Korean counterpart Kim Dae-jung as an annoyance, and said he should work with Moon to find a solution to problems on the Korean Peninsula.
Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun defied Washington with the belief that sunshine would warm Pyongyang and inevitably bring the regime out of its hermit shell. Although inter-Korean relations were mostly amicable then, the policy was tainted when multibillion-dollar aid from South Korea came under suspicion of having contributed to advancing North Korea’s weapons program. Moon won’t be free to go solo in dealing with Kim Jong-un as he proves to be more difficult to handle than his father.
North Korea on Sunday fired a ballistic missile that reached its highest-ever altitude, suggesting that it could have flown as far as Hawaii. The launch was administered when a more dovish president had been just inaugurated in South Korea, and as U.S. and Chinese leaders were working closer than ever on pressuring Pyongyang.
Moon sent envoys to four nations — the United States, China, Japan and Russia — as a move to form a united front. The Moonshine Policy may not be as dramatic as the Sunshine Policy, but it is more pragmatic and in tune with the international community. The discreet light in contrast with the complete and stubborn darkness under Moon’s conservative predecessors could be alluring and inviting for Kim Jong-un.
Beyond just North Korea policy, this new president’s governance style can best be described as “subtle Moonshine.” He did not rush nor waste time during his first week in office. From the moment his victory was proclaimed, Moon kept his eyes on the public. He popped out of the sunroof of his car on his way to his inauguration ceremony to wave to the crowd. He stopped to converse every time he met a citizen or reporter. He moved his office to the building where his staff works. His actions and behaviors have even impressed the 59 percent of voters who did not pick him.
The full moon is abundant and bright. The crescent moon emits a “bluish beam like a sharp knife,” as poet Na Do-hyang wrote in the 1920s. Moon has order a reopening of investigations into the Sewol ferry sinking and power abuse under former President Park Geun-hye, but they could cut and leave a fatal wound if they go wrong. The people have become weary of repeat rewinding of the past.
The new government must give new hope to the people. Reopening the case against a former president who is already politically dead could send the wrong message that her successor is so cruel as to attempt to kill her twice. We do not want to see more public angst and rage hitting the streets.
We wish to see more full moons and less crescent ones in the era of Moonshine.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 15, Page 34
*The author is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.