Biography of Moon Jae-in President of South Korea since 2017
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Moon Jae-in (Hangul: 문재인; Hanja: 文在寅; Korean pronunciation: [mundʑɛin] or [mun] [t͡ɕɛin]; born 24 January 1953) is a South Korean politician serving as the 19th and current President of South Korea since 2017. He was elected after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye as the candidate of the Democratic Party.
A former student activist, human rights lawyer and chief of staff to then-President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon served as Leader of Democratic Party (2015–2016) and a member of the 19th National Assembly (2012–2016). He was also a candidate for the former Democratic United Party in the 2012 presidential election in which he lost narrowly to Park Geun-hye. As President, Moon Jae-in met with North Korean chairman Kim Jong-un in the April 2018 inter-Korean summit, May 2018 inter-Korean summit, and September 2018 inter-Korean summit.
- Early Life, Education and Military Service
- Early Career
- Human rights attorney
- Roh Moo-hyun administration
- Political Career before the presidency (2012–2017)
- Entrance to politics
- 2012 general election
- 2012 presidential campaign
- Leader of the Democratic Party
- 2017 Presidential Election
- Primary and general election
- Campaign positions on domestic policy
- Economic policy
- Social issues
- Campaign positions on foreign policy
- Domestic Policy
- Chaebol (Korean Inc.) reform
- Animal rights/adoption of “First Dog”
- Foreign Policy
- International relations
- North Korea
- Domestic Policy
- Electoral History
- Personal Life
- External Links
1| Early Life, Education and Military Service
Born in Geoje, South Korea, during the last year of the Korean War, Moon Jae-in was the second child and oldest son among five children of father Moon Yong-hyung and mother Kang Han-ok. His parents were refugees from South Hamgyeong Province, North Korea, who fled their native city of Hungnam during the Hungnam evacuation during Korean War.
His family eventually settled in Busan. Since his father did not want to become a government employee, as he had been in North Korea, his father started a business selling socks, which left his family in great debt. His mother became the breadwinner by selling clothes received from relief organisations and delivering briquettes. Moon’s family became attached to the Catholic Church when his mother went to the local cathedral to receive whole milk powder. Moon once said in an interview that he didn’t know how to ride a bike since his family was too desperately poor to afford a bike or monthly school tuition.
Moon entered Kyungnam High School at the top of his class. He was accepted to study law at Kyung Hee University with a full scholarship. There he met his future wife, Kim Jung-sook. After he organized a student protest against the Yushin Constitution, he was arrested, convicted, imprisoned, and expelled from the university. Later, he was conscripted into the military and assigned to the South Korean special forces, where he participated in “Operation Paul Bunyan” during the Axe murder incident in Panmunjom.
After his discharge, the death of his father influenced him to decide to take the Bar Exam. He went into Daeheungsa, the Buddhist temple, to study for the exam and passed the first of two rounds in 1979. In 1980 he returned to school to complete his remaining year of studies. Later that year, he passed the second round and was admitted to the Judicial Research and Training Institute. He graduated second in his class but was not admitted to become a judge or government prosecutor due to his history of activism against the Yushin dictatorship under Park Chung-hee’s rule as a student. Moon chose to go into private practice instead.
2| Early Career
2.1| Human Rights Attorney
After becoming a lawyer, he partnered and worked with future President Roh Moo-hyun in the 1980s. Along with Roh, he took cases involving human rights and civil rights issues defending labor rights activists and students persecuted for opposing Korea’s then military dictatorship. They remained friends up until Roh’s suicide in 2009.
He was a founding member of the progressive South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh, in 1988.
2.2| Roh Moo-hyun Administration
Yielding to Roh’s insistence, Moon became Roh’s campaign manager during his presidential bid. After Roh’s victory, Moon became Roh’s chief presidential secretary and close aide holding various roles in a presidential administration. Moon held roles as Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Society, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs, and Chief Presidential Secretary (equivalent to Chief-of-Staff) from 2003-2008.
Moon was also the chairperson of the Promotion of the 2nd North-South Korea Summit.
3| Political Career before the presidency (2012–2017)
3.1| Entrance to Politics
Despite his earlier indifference, he began to get involved in politics. He published a memoir called Moon Jae-in: The Destiny which became a bestseller. His popularity had been rising steady against the likely opponent in the presidential race, Park Geun-hye. For instance, in a February 2012 poll, Moon rivaled Park in popularity.
Moon managed to capitalize on the conservatives’ decline in popularity amid a series of corruption scandals. As one pundit said, “Moon had managed to portray himself as a moderate and rational leader who has the backing of the younger generation”.
3.2| 2012 General Election
In 2012, Moon entered a bid for a seat in the National Assembly in the 19th legislative election. Moon won a seat in the Sasang District of Busan on 11 April 2012 as a member of the Democratic United Party with 55% of the vote.
3.3| 2012 Presidential Campaign
On September 16, 2012, Moon received the presidential nomination for the Democratic United Party.
He ran for the 2012 presidential election as the Democratic United Party’s candidate in a three-way race against Park Geun-hye, the incumbent ruling party’s candidate and daughter of the late president Park Chung-hee, as well as independent software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo. Ahn dropped out of the race and endorsed Moon after polls showed a most likely definitive loss for both candidates were there to be a three-way race against Park. Moon went on to lose the election.
3.4| Leader of the Democratic Party
Moon was elected as the leader of New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) on February 2, 2015. Prior to his election, Moon and NPAD party leader and 2012 presidential candidate rival Ahn Cheol-soo had many public disputes over the direction of the party.
Moon’s official role led Ahn Cheol-soo to quit and form the centrist People’s Party. Ahn’s departure and Moon’s new tenure as party leader led to renaming the liberal, NPAD Party as the new Democratic Party.
During his leadership, Moon scouted several politically prominent people, including police studies/criminology expert Pyo Chang-won, political critic Lee Chul-hee, and former president Park’s secretary Cho Ung-chun to prepare for upcoming 2016 legislative elections. After his recruitment, Moon resigned his position for another scouted advisor/former Park advisor Kim Chong-in.
Moon Jae-in and Leader of the then-Saenuri Party Kim Moo-sung (centre) at the Buddha’s Birthday ceremony in May 2015
4| 2017 presidential election
4.1| Primary and general election
Moon was considered the frontrunner to win Korea’s 2017 presidential election, which would be the 19th term of the country’s presidency, following the Impeachment of Park Geun-hye.
He won the Democratic Party’s nomination against fellow party members Ahn Hee-jung, Lee Jae-myung, and Choi Sung with 57% of the votes.
The general election originally had 15 announced candidates. Moon faced four other major party nominees during the election, including 2012 presidential rival and past party colleague Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Hong Jun-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party. He was elected the 19th President of South Korea in Korea’s 19th presidential election by a large plurality over two other major opponents, conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo.
On May 10, 2017, Moon ended his campaign by winning 41.1% votes (with 13,423,800 votes) to win the plurality of votes. As Moon was elected in a special election, he did not have the 60 days of transitional period of previous administrations, but was instead inaugurated the day after the election.
4.2| Campaign positions on domestic policy
4.2.1| Economic Policy
Moon’s campaign promise in 2017 included intentions to put a 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) fiscal stimulus to support job creation, start-ups, and small to mid-sized companies. His announced goal is to create 810,000 public sector jobs through raising taxes on the wealthy.
Moon’s policy against corporate corruption, specifically in regards to Korean conglomerates known as “chaebols ” is to give “minority shareholders more power in electing board members” of the companies.
Moon also promised transparency in his presidency, moving the presidential residence from the palatial and isolated Blue House to an existing government complex in downtown Seoul.
4.2.3| Social Issues
In a televised presidential debate, Moon said he opposes homosexuality, in response to conservative candidate Hong Jun-pyo’s remarks that gay soldiers were a source of weakness in the South Korean military. Moon’s remark prompted immediate criticism during the debate from Sim Sang-jung, the sole presidential candidate to support LGBT rights and a member of the leftist Justice Party. The conservative remark also prompted outrage from gay rights activists, considering Moon’s representation as the leading liberal candidate and former human rights lawyer. Some of Moon’s supporters dismissed the comments as a necessity to win, as South Koreans tend to be conservative in social issues. Moon later clarified his comments suggesting that he still believes there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation while opposing legalizing same-sex marriage.
4.3| Campaign positions on foreign policy
Moon has favored a peaceful reunification between the two Koreas. He was both widely criticized and widely praised for his comments stating that his first visit if elected president would be to visit North Korea, a visit that would be not unlike Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to the country in 2007. Similarly, Moon’s foreign policy towards North Korea is considered to closely align with the Sunshine Policy embraced by former liberal presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
His 2017 presidential campaign has supported re-opening of the Kaesong industrial park.
Moon’s relatively liberal stance in foreign policy is reflected as he is quoted in a book: “I’m pro-U.S., but now South Korea should adopt diplomacy in which it can discuss a U.S. request and say no to the Americans.” He opposes a re-balance of the security alliance with the United States, but has also stated that he would like South Korea “to be able to take the lead on matters on the Korean Peninsula.” At the same time, Moon has stated that he considers America as a “friend” for its role in helping South Korea avoid communism while helping its economic growth.
Inauguration of Moon Jae-in, May 10, 2017.
Moon was sworn into office immediately after official votes were counted on May 10, replacing Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. There was no transition period between the election and inauguration, unlike other presidential elections due to the nature of an election following a presidential impeachment. He will serve out the typical single five-year term with his presidential term concluding in 2022.
5.1| Domestic policy
5.1.1| Chaebol (Korean Inc.) reform
South Korea’s economic growth has been attributed in large part to Chaebols, or family-owned conglomerates. Prominent examples of conglomerates include Samsung and Hyundai. Following various corruption scandals (Samsung’s vice-chairman Lee Jae-yongserving a suspended jail sentence), concentrated power (collusion), connections with the government including most recently the 2016 Choi Soon-sil scandal which ultimately led to the special election Moon won, one of Moon’s biggest areas of focus during the campaign was reforms at chaebols including greater transparency in the companies’ corporate governance structure. Moon appointed “chaebol sniper” Kim Sang-jo, a well-known shareholder activist, to the role of fair-trade commissioner aimed at reforming chaebols.
Moon’s predecessor and daughter of Park Chung-hee, Park Geun-hye, originally planned to mandate usage of state-issued history textbooks in 2018. Moon reversed these plans in May 2017 in one of his first major acts as president. Critics of Park’s original plan saw this as a way for Park to mitigate some representations of her father’s oppressive policies under a dictatorial rule, only highlighting the positive accomplishments of the past. Park had stated she wanted to replace the “left-leaning” books with those created from the government that would instill greater patriotism. Although the Park government had responded to backlash by switching its official position on requiring the textbooks and allowing schools to choose the state-issued, Moon’s action scrapped the program altogether. Schools will continue to choose privately published, government-approved textbooks written under educational guidelines instead.
5.1.3| Animal rights/adoption of “First Dog”
Moon had promised during his campaign to adopt a dog from an animal sanctuary. This was considered relevant to South Korean politics as the country allows for consumption of dog meat. His administration adopted Tory, a four-year-old black mongrel who was saved from a dog meat farm, from an animal rights group. The move was considered to send “a strong message against the [dog meat] trade”.
Moon’s administration has focused on increasing South Korea’s consumption of natural gas, away from nuclear and coal as sources of energy. These plans include delaying construction on nuclear reactors as well as re-opening dialogue around a natural gas pipeline that would come from Russia and pass through North Korea. At the event on June 19, 2017 marking the end of operations at South Korea’s oldest nuclear reactor, Kori Unit 1, Moon outlined his plan for the future of energy in Korea, saying “we will abandon the development policy centred on nuclear power plants and exit the era of nuclear energy.” This would be implemented by canceling plans for new nuclear power plants and not renewing licenses for operating plants. In addition, he shut down eight coal-fired power plants upon assuming office in May 2017, and pledged to shut down the remaining ten coal plants by the end of his term. In the long term, he envisioned renewable sources would eventually be able to meet Korea’s demand, but in the interim, proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a stopgap measure while coal and nuclear were taken offline in the coming decades.
Moon Jae-in’s Presidential Job Approval rating
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes President Moon on June 30, 2017, in the White House Rose Garden
5.2| Foreign Policy
5.2.1| International Relations
Moon visited the United States to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2017, discussing U.S.-Korea trade relations as well as North Korea’s missile programs. Moon revealed in a joint news conference that President Trump accepted an invitation to visit South Korea.
Moon with U.S. President Donald Trump at the height of the North Korea crisis in November 2017
5.2.2| North Korea
Outlining his North Korea strategy in a speech in Berlin, Germany, on July 6, 2017, Moon characterized the process leading to unification as a long-term project, rather than laying out any detailed plans for a unified Korea. He emphasized alliance with the United States and specified the need to assure dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. At the same time he presented the question of unification in a regional context and signaled his hopes of working in cooperation with the international community. He supported sanctions against North Korea, while leaving open the possibility of their being rescinded, and indicated that it is crucial to establish a peace treaty with North Korea to end the Korean War officially in exchange for denuclearization.
Moon watches a performance of the Samjiyon Band with North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam, 11 February 2018
Moon opposed the full deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) systems during his presidential campaign and called for more peace talks engaging with North Korea.
As of late July, following North Korea’s latest missile launch and increasingly aggressive actions, Moon asked the U.S. permission to build up its domestic defense systems and temporarily set up a full THAAD system.
Moon met with Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, on 27 April 2018.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and Moon shake hands inside the Peace House.
Kim and Moon met again on 26 May. The second meeting was also at the DMZ, this time on the North Korean side of the Panmunjom village. The meeting took two hours. The meeting had not been publicly announced beforehand. The meeting was largely centered around the cancelled summit with Donald Trump.
In September 2018, Moon Jae-in visited Pyongyang in the September 2018 inter-Korean summit. He and 150 delegates– including prominent figures in business, culture, and religion– flew to the Sunan Airport in Pyeongyang and met with Kim Jong-un. The two Korean leaders announced an agreement to decrease hostilities on the DMZ, further joint-economic projects, and open North Korean weapons facilities to international experts. The leaders also gave a speech to 150,000 North Korean citizens in the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium with themes of unification, lasting peace, and friendship. Moon fulfilled his dream by trekking Mount Paektu.
Kim and Moon shake hands in greeting at the demarcation line.
6| Electoral History
7| Personal Life
Kim Jung-sook with Ivanka Trump at the 2018 Winter Olympics, 24 February 2018
Moon married Kim Jung-sook, a vocalist from the same university he attended. He and Kim both individually revealed in separate Korean talk shows that they both met each other when Moon was a student activist protesting the Yushin Constitution.
Moon has three pets: two dogs (Korean: 마루, translit. Maru, a Pungsan dog, and Korean: 토리, translit. Tory, a mixed-breed) and one cat (Korean: 찡찡, translit. Jjing-jjing). Jjing-jjing is the country’s first-ever “first cat”, and Tory was adopted from a shelter, in contrast with other “first dogs”, which had traditionally been purebred Jindo dogs. Moon stated at Tory’s adoption that “we need to pay more attention to abandoned animals and care for them as a society” and that he wanted to remove the stigma against Tory’s dark coat, which contributed to him being virtually unadoptable for two years after he was rescued in 2015.
Moon is a practicing Roman Catholic, the third leader after the late former President Kim Dae-jung (Roh Moo-hyun was a lapsed Catholic). His baptismal (or Christian) name is “Timothy”.
8| External Links