South Korea: Moon Jae-in slammed as memoirs released

Former South Korean President Moon Jae-in has caused a stir at home and abroad with the release of his memoirs, with critics charging that his book is overly critical of other world leaders, glosses over a number of his own political missteps and demonstrates naivete in his assessment of the ambitions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The book, “From the Periphery to the Center,” was released on May 18. 

The release came one day after North Korea launched a tactical ballistic missile fitted with what Pyongyang described as a new “autonomous” navigation system. The United States condemned the launch as a “dangerous” provocation and a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions

North Korea inevitably takes up a large part of Moon’s memoirs, with the former president writing, “I think Kim Jong Un’s promise to denuclearize was sincere.”

He added that Kim had told him in a face-to-face meeting in Singapore in June 2018 that “I have no intention of using nuclear weapons. I don’t want my daughter’s generation to have to live with nuclear weapons over their heads.”

Moon’s attitude toward the North has been questioned for being naiveImage: Gimm-Young Publishers, Inc

Promises on missiles and nuclear weapons

Kim also told Moon that he had no medium- or long-range missiles, promised to visit South Korea and set up a direct cross-border phone line to deal with any crises that might arise and promised to halt the North’s nuclear and missile tests if the South suspended joint military drills with the US.

The US-South Korean exercises were suspended, an editorial in the newspaper Chosun Ilbo pointed out, but it was quickly apparent that the North had stepped up its missile and nuclear programs and Kim’s other promises were equally worthless.

“In Moon’s memoirs, he consistently took Kim Jong Un’s word over objective facts,” the newspaper concluded.

“His comments on North Korea simply reflect his idealism and wishful thinking,” said Kim Sang-woo, a former politician with the left-leaning South Korean Congress for New Politics and now a member of the board of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation.

“Moon always looked at relations with the North in an emotional way, never in a rational way,” he told DW.

Moon emerged as a politician from the left-wing groups that opposed the military dictatorships that ruled South Korea until the late 1980s and saw North Korea as a more natural partner and ally than the US. The left in Korea was also the most vehemently anti-Japanese, a legacy of Tokyo’s brutal colonial rule of the peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

What’s behind new tensions between North and South Korea

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video

Overlooking the shortcomings

As a consequence, Kim Sang-woo said, Moon’s administration chose to overlook the shortcomings of the North Korean regime — everything from political repression to threatening other nations with its nuclear weapons — and tried to engage Pyongyang with offers of talks, aid and, ultimately, the ideal of reunification.

“I find it hard to understand how Moon could believe Kim’s promises, especially when he promised one thing and turned around and did exactly the opposite,” Kim Sang-woo said. “How could he have been so naive?”

South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho went one further in his criticism of Moon “placing complete trust in North Korea’s intentions,” comparing it to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain placing full trust in Adolf Hitler’s intentions in the runup to the outbreak of World War II.

Moon also took aim at other world leaders in his book. He said then-President Donald Trump “could be rude and rough around the edges” and the late Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister at the time, was “headstrong.” Moon also said Japan, as a nation, was “narrow-minded” for its refusal to face up to its colonial past and was “a failing country.”

A difference of opinions

The memoir has also resurrected a domestic controversy that dogged Moon’s administration. The former president denied that his wife’s visit to India in 2018 was not paid for with taxpayers’ money. Moon insists that Kim Jung-sook’s visit, aboard the government’s private jet, was the “first standalone diplomacy by a [South Korean] first lady.”

Lim Eun-jung, an associate professor of international studies at Kongju National University, said plenty of South Koreans see the visit quite differently.

“Moon says his wife had been invited by the Indian side and that it would have been difficult to refuse, but the Foreign Ministry has disputed that explanation,” she told DW.

North Korea tests intercontinental ballistic missile

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video

Accusations of hypocrisy are flying as Moon’s party, the Democratic Party of Korea, now in opposition, have been demanding a formal investigation into allegations that the wife of President Yoon Suk-yeol accepted an expensive bag as a gift.

But for most commentators, Moon’s failure to consider that Kim Jong Un might have been lying to him or could have ulterior motives comes is the biggest surprise to emerge from his book.

“It is hugely controversial,” said Lim.

“Moon has been too naive throughout, and my feeling is that we need to be more cautious in our dealings with the North. We cannot trust their intentions. And I think most people here share that belief.”

Edited by: John Silk

Read More

Julian Ryall