The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Fit for president?

Controversy raises questions about Moon’s qualifications as leader

By 김케빈도현

Published : Oct. 19, 2016 - 15:09

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The controversy sparked by former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon’s memoir is agitating the political community partly because of the deep-rooted ideological divide between conservatives and liberals, who often confront one another over how to deal with North Korea.

Another reason it has become a bone of contention is that Moon Jae-in, the leading potential presidential candidate of the main opposition party, is a key figure in the controversy. 

Opinion polls show that Moon, who lost the 2012 election to President Park Geun-hye, is the No. 2 contender for the 2017 campaign, trailing only behind UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the overall ranking of favored potential candidates.

In the growing pack of liberal potential candidates, Moon holds a clear lead over rivals such as People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon.

So the ruling party and its conservative supporters see reason to seize the controversy to attack and discredit the man who could become a major hurdle in their bid to extend their conservative rule. 

The Saenuri Party is indeed moving fast, forming a “fact-finding” task force and vowing to deal resolutely with the case, which it argues puts the nation’s security and sovereignty in danger.

The controversy centers on Song’s testimony that Moon and other security aides to the late President Roh Moo-hyun sought the opinion of North Korea before they decided to abstain from a UN vote on the North’s human rights situation in 2007.

In his memoir, Song said Roh and his aides were having difficulty reaching a consensus. Kim Man-bok, then chief of the National Intelligence Service, suggested consulting the North, and Moon, then the Blue House chief of staff, accepted the proposal.

Some participants in the Blue House meetings held in November 2007 deny what Song wrote in his memoir. Kim said he did not remember making such a proposal and Lee Jae-jung, then the unification minister, said Moon was in favor of a “yes” vote initially, but changed his position as a majority of participants were in favor of abstention.

Rep. Kim Kyung-soo, who often speaks on behalf of Moon, went on to say that there was no need or reason to seek the opinion of the North and that the government -- after deciding to abstain -- conveyed this to Pyongyang.

But Song, now head of a graduate school focused on North Korea studies, remains firm on what he wrote in the memoir. He said that he wrote the book “based on records, not memory.” The truth does not change, he said.  

As things stand, all or part of the truth could be verified by Moon, but he keeps hiding behind his former colleagues and his party. 

Moon’s initial response to Song’s testimony was not about what happened at the Blue House in November 2007 or whether he authorized the prior consultation with the North.

Instead, he merely said the Roh government had waged fierce internal debates on every foreign policy and security issue before making a decision. He chose to beat around the bush. 

He even said he could not remember the details of what had happened and that anyone who is curious should ask those with a good memory. It is truly sad to hear a man who held such an important post as presidential chief of staff and who wants to take over the Blue House saying he does not remember the details of so serious an issue.

Furthermore, the 2007 decision to abstain from the UN vote on NK human rights was a reversal of a “yes” vote the Seoul government gave to the same resolution the previous year.

Moon should clarify the details of the Blue House meetings in question and his position on the UN vote at the time. At issue is his honesty and his stance on North Korea, both key elements in judging the qualifications of candidates for president.