Moon reflects on last five years in office
President Moon Jae-in, less than three months before his time in office expires, said in a joint written interview with Yonhap and other foreign news agencies that he was proud of his administration leading the country in “weathering a myriad of crises,” including the North Korean nuclear threat, Japan’s export restrictions, the Covid-19 pandemic and global economic upheaval.
The written interview was held instead of his customary New Year's press conference. The full transcript of the interview was released Thursday morning.
In the interview Moon also noted that his administration oversaw the rise of per capita income beyond $30,000, reaching $35,000 last year, and that Korea’s “national power and international standing have been significantly elevated” during his five-year term.
While the most recent political opinion survey conducted by Gallup Korea between Jan. 18 and 20 shows that public disapproval of Moon stood at 53 percent, his approval rating of 41 percent is higher by almost 20 percentage points than that of any of his predecessors at the same point in their presidencies.
Although Moon entered the Blue House with 84 percent approval after the ousting of scandal-ridden Park Geun-hye by impeachment, his administration suffered significant loss of support due to a school admissions scandal involving the daughter of his close ally Cho Kuk and its real estate policies, which tightened rules on borrowing and raised property taxes in a failed attempt to rein in housing prices.
Moon acknowledged that his government “failed to stabilize housing prices” and called it the “most painful part” of his presidency.
The president’s pursuit of reconciliation with North Korea also loomed as another policy area where he expressed some regret, but also touted his achievements.
When asked if Pyongyang’s recent flurry of missile tests represented a regression of inter-Korean relations back to where they were five years ago, Moon said that the talks between the North, South and United States in the lead-up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics “drove away the dark clouds of war cast over the peninsula in one fell swoop, helping to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula up to the present.”
The president also called the inter-Korean summits held in April, May and September 2018 and two U.S.-North Korea summits, held in Singapore in June 2018 and in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019 “achievements in themselves.” The president said he believed he “helped shift the direction” of relations between the North and South and the United States “toward dialogue and diplomacy rather than military confrontation.”
However, Moon also acknowledged that the collapse of the Hanoi summit between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remained “a lasting regret,” and said that in the absence of a sweeping “big deal” acceptable to both countries, a “small deal” should have been sought to formulate a “phased approach” to wind down tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“The ‘Hanoi No Deal’ brought North Korea-U.S. talks and inter-Korean dialogue — both of which had been on an upswing until then — to a halt and caused a long stalemate,” Moon said regarding the consequences of the summit’s collapse. “It is very regrettable that the summit ended in no deal when the continuation of dialogue should have been ensured, at least.”
The president added that he held onto hope that the administration of his successor would continue engagement with the North, and that he could leave conditions “ripe” for an end-of-war declaration to put an end to inter-Korean hostility.
“An end-of-war declaration is useful since it signifies a process to promote mutual trust and a move toward denuclearization and the institutionalization of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. “I look forward to the endeavors made thus far leading to the greatest possible outcome and efforts for dialogue continuing under the next administration.”
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]