President Yoon Suk-yeol’s spouse Kim Keon-hee could be starting her public activities in earnest, recently visiting the late President Roh Moo-hyun’s grave and speaking on animal rights in an interview.
In a scheduled event announced by the presidential office, Kim visited Roh’s grave in the village of Bongha in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province, on Monday and met with his wife Kwon Yang-sook, in her first official activity without accompanying Yoon.
Yoon told reporters in the morning that Kim had wanted to meet Kwon since last year, but had not had a chance until then.
Kim also plans to meet with Kim Jung-sook, the wife of former President Moon Jae-in, in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, this week, although the schedule is not yet fixed.
When asked by reporters whether this visit to Bongha could be read as a signal of Kim’s public activities, Yoon gave a vague answer, saying, “Why are you interpreting everything so deeply?”
Attention is being paid to whether first lady Kim -- who once said she would quietly concentrate on assisting Yoon -- will begin to engage in full-fledged public activities.
Kim has been keeping a low profile since Yoon’s presidential campaign due to allegations surrounding her, including that she lied about her educational background and career in job interviews as well as alleged involvement in a scheme to manipulate the stock price of Deutsche Motors.
Since Yoon took office, she has only accompanied Yoon unofficially. Last month, with Yoon she visited department stores, markets and Namsan Hanok Village in downtown Seoul, and met with US President Joe Biden. On June 6, she attended a Memorial Day ceremony, sitting next to Yoon.
Monday’s visit is her first official activity without Yoon, and she is expected to further increase her public activities. Although the second office system -- an office in charge of affairs for the first lady -- was abolished at the presidential office, there are three administrators in charge of Kim’s schedule and performance.
She is also expected to accompany President Yoon to a NATO summit, his first overseas visit as president, which comes at the end of this month.
On Monday, Kim also made her voice heard in an interview about animal rights. It marked the first time that Kim conducted an official interview with the media.
In the interview, she insisted on ending the practice of eating dog meat.
“Korea and China are the only countries with large economies that eat dogs,” she said. “I hope that (the Yoon Suk-yeol government) will produce concrete results in animal abuse, neglect of abandoned dogs and dog meat issues.”
“I think universal culture should be shared with developed countries because it can develop antipathy toward Korea,” Kim said.
She believes the end of dog eating can be solved by policy, saying, “There seems to be a way to provide policy support to small dog meat companies to change their industries.”
Despite her moves to cautiously increase public activities, a recent poll showed that a majority of Koreans believe Kim should focus only on internal assistance.
When a poll company, Next Research, asked 1,010 people aged 18 or older nationwide on June 8 and 9 at the request of SBS, 60.6 percent of respondents said, “It is better for her to focus on President Yoon’s assistance.” Thirty-one percent of respondents said, “It is better to engage in public activities as a president’s wife.”
Her private moves leaked via an online fan club also stoke controversy at times.
Last month, photos taken inside of the Yongsan presidential building were posted to “Keon-hee Sarang.” It was belatedly revealed that she took pictures with her cellphone and gave them to a fan club member, violating security regulations.
Regarding the fan club photos, People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok said Monday it would be nice to do it through public channels rather than a private fan club.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com