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[Newsmaker] Moon Chung-in’s ‘personal views’ once again lands him in hot water

Moon Chung-in, a special national security and foreign affairs adviser to President Moon Jae-in, is once again making headlines. And again for all the wrong reasons.

The latest controversy began with his contribution to the foreign policy magazine Foreign Affairs.

In the article published online on April 30, Moon Chung-in outlined the Panmunjeom Declaration, which includes ending the Korean War and signing a peace treaty. 

Moon Chung-in, at a forum on April 26 at the inter-Korean summit media center at the KINTEX exhibition center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. Yonhap
Moon Chung-in, at a forum on April 26 at the inter-Korean summit media center at the KINTEX exhibition center in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. Yonhap

In the article, he claimed that a peace treaty with the North would concern the US Forces Korea, and make it “difficult to justify their continuing presence in South Korea.”

He went on to claim that the conservatives’ rejection of any changes to the USFK will cause a “major political dilemma for Moon (Jae-in),” implying that the president may entertain ideas in line with the claim that the USFK’s presence is unjustifiable once a peace treaty is signed.

Cheong Wa Dae responded quickly to the controversy, stating that the special adviser’s words were his personal views, while chief of staff Im Jong-seok cautioned Moon Chung-in against causing confusion regarding the president’s position on the matter.

Wednesday’s caution is the second Moon Chung-in has received from Cheong Wa Dae since taking the role of special adviser just under a year ago.

Despite Cheong Wa Dae’s attempts to distance itself from the controversy, opposition parties have pounced on Moon Chung-in’s remarks.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which in the past referred to Moon Chung-in as a “time bomb,” has called on the president to dismiss Moon Chung-in.

“Cheong Wa Dae must reveal if the condition for signing a peace treaty is a withdrawal of US forces,” Liberty Korea Party spokesman Rep. Chang Je-won said Wednesday.

“If the USFK’s withdrawal is not Cheong Wa Dae’s position, (the president) must immediately dismiss Moon Chung-in.”

With Wednesday’s developments being only the latest in a long string of controversies sparked by Moon Chung-in, the 67-year-old academic may be failing to see eye-to-eye with the current administration despite his long-standing connection to the liberal bloc’s foreign and national security policymaking. Moon Chung-in served under both of the country’s only two liberal presidents -- Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun -- before Moon Jae-in.

In May last year, when he was appointed, Moon Chung-in said in an interview with a local daily that South Korea should consider easing sanctions imposed in response to the North’s sinking of a South Korean warship. In a separate interview the special adviser also said that Seoul should allow civilian exchanges across the border, linking the Kaesong industrial park and tours to North Korea to his claims.

In the following month, during a lecture in Washington, Moon Chung-in said that reducing South Korea-US joint military drills and US military assets in the South should be considered if Pyongyang ceases provocations.

Cheong Wa Dae downplayed the comments saying that Moon Chung-in was expressing “his personal views as an academic.” At the time, Cheong Wa Dae also said that a “person with authority” had spoken firmly with the special adviser saying that such statements are detrimental to South Korea-US relations.

The warning, however, did little to stop Moon Chung-in from expressing his “personal views” that at times directly contradicted Moon Jae-in’s public position.

“It is clear that President Moon is sending confusing messages,” Moon Chung-in said in a speech given at a local university in September. At the time, Moon Chung-in cited the president’s emphasis on peace in his address to the UN General Assembly while supporting US President Donald Trump’s hard-line stance on North Korea.

President Moon, however, has reiterated numerous times that Trump’s consistent North Korea policy has been pivotal in engaging Pyongyang in a dialogue.

In the speech in September, Moon Chung-in also hinted that the president’s remarks on the issue may be influenced by politics, saying “the president cannot but think of both of his supporter base and the US.”

As with Trump’s policies, Moon Jae-in has been consistent in maintaining that matters concerning peace on the peninsula transcend politics.

By Choi He-suk (