Impact Player: Moon Jae-in

Who is he?
Moon Jae-in is the candidate for the liberal Minjoo Party in South Korea’s May 9, 2017 presidential elections. He previously ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Blue House in 2012 when he lost a two-way race to Park Geun-hye by a close margin of 48% to 52%. Moon boasts a 15-year long political career spanning the Blue House and the National Assembly.
A human rights lawyer by training, Moon Jae-in previously held key Blue House positions from 2003 to 2008 during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. Between 2003 and 2006, Moon served twice as the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs. In this role, he ushered institutional reforms of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, National Intelligence Service, and National Police Agency. He also paved the way for legal reforms including the jury system, which was introduced in South Korean courts in 2008.
Moon served as chief of staff in the Blue House from 2007 to 2008. His term coincided with key developments in the U.S.-ROK alliance, notably KORUS FTA negotiations and construction of a joint naval base on Jeju Island. For the alliance, he advocated for a more “horizontal relationship” with the U.S. with greater autonomy for the ROK. Notably, Moon led the planning for the 2007 inter-Korean summit between Roh and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.
After a hiatus following Roh’s death in 2009, Moon returned to the political scene and joined the Democratic United Party (precursor to the Minjoo Party) in 2011. In April 2012, he was elected to the National Assembly representing Busan’s Sasang District. Most recently, Moon served as the chairman of the Minjoo Party from 2015 to 2016.
Moon was conscripted into the ROK Special Forces from 1975 to 1978 after being jailed for organizing a student protest against the Park Chung-hee government. Moon completed his studies in law at Kyung Hee University in Seoul and passed the state bar exam in 1980.

Photo credit: MIMACDS/Wikimedia Commons

Why has he been in the news?
On April 3, Moon was nominated as the Minjoo Party’s candidate in the May 9 elections. Snap elections were called after former president Park Geun-hye was impeached on March 10, for her alleged involvement in a wide-ranging political scandal involving bribery, extortion, and abuse of power. In his nomination acceptance speech, Moon pledged to revitalize the Korean economy, enhance national security, and “eradicate injustice, corruption and inequality."
An April 13 Realmeter poll showed Moon as the current frontrunner with a 44.8% approval rating. Rival candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, has made drastic gains according to the recent poll numbers at 36.5%. Moon Jae-in will continue his 22-day long presidential campaign – set by the National Election Commission (NEC) – leading up to election day, and will participate in three upcoming debates scheduled by the NEC on April 23, April 28, and May 2.
What can we expect from him?
Moon’s policy prescriptions stand in stark contrast to those of his conservative predecessor’s. On North Korea, he has proposed a limited version of the Sunshine Policy that combines strong deterrence and economic sanctions with a restart in inter-Korean economic cooperation and direct dialogue. Moon expressed that Kim Jong-un should be recognized as a counterpart and that he would visit North Korea before any other country if it would help negotiations. He also favors reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint manufacturing facility on the inter-Korean border, which was shut down in 2016.
In navigating great power politics, Moon envisions a “balanced diplomacy” strategy for South Korea vis-à-vis the U.S. and China. He maintains strong support for the U.S.-ROK alliance, while being simultaneously wary of antagonizing China especially regarding THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) deployment. Moon has pledged to renegotiate the terms of THAAD with the U.S. and postpone deployment until the next administration. In a February 3 interview, he stated that China will play an important role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and emphasized the importance of “stable cooperation” between the U.S. and China.
Photo credit: Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images

David Sungjae Hong