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President Moon praises BTS, shies away from speaking about late ex-dictator Chun Doo-hwan

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and members of K-pop boy band BTS are interviewed by American television network ABC at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 21. (Yonhap)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and members of K-pop boy band BTS are interviewed by American television network ABC at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 21. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday had a lengthy message to share about K-pop group BTS’ winning of three trophies at this year’s American Music Awards. But he apparently had little to say about Chun Doo-hwan, Korea’s president from 1980 to 1988, who died on Tuesday morning.

“Rest in peace. Condolences to the family members,” his spokesperson said during a press briefing late in the afternoon. Chun’s passing was earlier in the morning. The Korean sentences were missing subjects.

The spokesperson added the presidential office has no plans to send flowers or pay a visit in an official capacity.

Chun, who ruled Korea for eight years, was a military dictator criticized for his role in the brutal suppression of the 1980 pro-democracy movement known as the Gwangju Uprising. Moon, at that time, was a student activist protesting the military dictatorship.

Earlier in the day, the president tweeted about South Korean pop group BTS’ award feat in a long tweet. At 1:58 pm, while domestic news was all about the death of Chun, the president said: “We send big congratulations and appreciation to BTS for winning the Artist of the Year title.”

“Korean culture is dominating the world and it is boosting the country’s national status and diplomacy,” he said.

Moon also cited international relations scholar Joseph Nye who said Korea was able to follow up its great economic success with a political success by creating a “vibrant” but “fractious” democracy during a recent conference held by a US-based think tank CSIS.

The distinctive difference in Moon’s attitude towards BTS and Chun comes as many politicians across the spectrum including his ruling Democratic Party struggled to decide the tone of their statement on Chun’s death.

“We express anger and regret over (Chun’s) ignorance not to seek forgiveness. There will be no condolences flowers, visits and a state funeral from the party,” the Democratic Party said in its statement, which was revised to delete the honorific “former president.”

Chun, the army general-turned strongman seized power through a military coup in 1979, faced criticism for years for refusing to apologize for his role in the brutal suppression of the 1980 pro-democracy movement known as the Gwangju Uprising.

Moon also kept silent in the wake of former president Roh Tae-woo’s death on Oct. 26 before sending condolences through his spokesperson and flowers to his funeral the following day.

“(Moon) said that while former President Roh Tae-woo’s faults such as suppressing the May 18 Democratic Uprising, and the Dec. 12 coup are not insignificant, (Roh) also had achievements such as hosting the 1988 Olympics, and adoption of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement,” Moon’s spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said at that time.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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