Have office, will travel
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
On the west coast of Norway is the picturesque city of Bergen. It is the heart of the Sognefjord, one of the most scenic places of the world. No visitor ever forgets its beauty. This is one of the destinations of President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook during their trip to Norway.
They will then board the Norwegian Navy’s 26,000-ton logistics and support vessel, built by the Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), in Bergen. Although the ship is the largest vessel of the country, it is not so special to Korea, a long-time powerhouse of the shipbuilding industry. The DSME already built four 37,000-ton logistics and support ships for Britain.
Moon and Kim will board the ship and enjoy the scenery, and then they will pay a visit to the house of Edvard Grieg, located about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away. It is a two-story building where the great composer used to live, and it is now a memorial to him. The Norwegian government will hold a concert for Moon and Kim.
The Blue House said the purpose of Moon’s trip to Norway is to “discuss cooperative measures on improvement of bilateral relations, peace on the Korean Peninsula, environmental-friendly economy and shipbuilding and maritime industries.” Moon will spend a day in the scenic city during his two-day state visit to Norway.
Since taking office, Moon has gone on 19 overseas trips. The frequency is on par with President Lee Myung-bak, who went on 49 overseas trips during his five-year presidency. Yet it seems that Moon is visiting tourist destinations. First lady Kim accompanied him on 18 trips, except for Moon’s one-day trip to Japan. Last year, she visited India without Moon.
While accompanying Moon, Kim visited major tourist destinations such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb in India, Prague in the Czech Republic, Hoi An in Vietnam and St. Peter’s Basilica of Vatican City. They are all Unesco cultural heritage sites.
Opposition politicians are making fun of the trips. Some have said that Moon and Kim are taking a journey around the world; others have said Kim must have a bucket list. The opposition parties even demanded an explanation from the Blue House for why he visited Prague when the Czech president was not in the city at the time.
First lady Kim’s solitary visit to India at the end of last year was particularly suspicious. The Blue House said the Indian prime minister formally invited her. It also stressed that there was a precedent for a first lady of Korea traveling alone. It said Lee Hee-ho, wife of President Kim Dae-jung, visited the United States alone in 2002.
But first lady Kim visited India with Moon just four months before her solitary trip. While President Moon was working, the Indian government arranged a trip for Kim to Humayun’s Tomb. “As I don’t have much time, I came here instead, which inspired the Taj Mahal,” she said at the time. “If I come to India again, I will make sure to visit the Taj Mahal.”
Let’s compare her trip to that of Lee Hee-ho.
In April 2002, Lee visited the United States as the chief delegate from Korea to the United Nations (UN) Special Session on Children. Instead of using a presidential plane, she traveled commercial. On her first day, she went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville and received an award for her achievements in human rights. Starting from the second day, she attended UN sessions. She hosted meetings and met with officials until the fourth day. She returned to Korea on the fifth.
In November last year, first lady Kim visited India aboard a presidential plane. She arrived there at night, so there was no schedule. On the second day of the trip, she met with the prime minister and foreign minister of India. On the third day, she attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Queen Huh Memorial Park and went to a Diwali festival, the largest holiday in India. On the fourth day, she toured the Taj Mahal and returned to Korea.
Of course, Moon’s predecessors and their spouses visited tourist destinations during their overseas trips, but the frequency was never this high.
As of now, the North Korean nuclear crisis is deadlocked and the Korean economy is in trouble. The United States and China are pressing Korea to take their side. Many people are feeling the economic pinch. The Blue House should have reconsidered the itinerary for the Norwegian trip in order to avoid criticism. Not far from there, in Hungary, a rescue operation is still ongoing to recover Korean casualties from the sinking of a sightseeing boat.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 11, Page 30