South Korea: President Moon Jae-in  

Moon Jae-In began his political career as the senior secretary for civic affairs in 2002 under the administration of his friend and mentor, Roh Moo-hyun.  Throughout his tenure Moon acted as one of Roh’s closest advisors, and became chief of staff in 2007.  After the Roh administration ended in 2008, Moon returned to his position as a human rights lawyer in the private sector.  In 2017 Moon returned to the national political stage in the snap election following the impeachment and removal of Park Geun-hye from office.  Moon ran on a campaign promising to reign in the influence of South Korea’s chaebols, the family-owned conglomerates some say choke small business, and address income inequality and the decentralization of government.  Moon also proposed opening 6-nation peace talks aimed at denuclearization and the decrease of tensions.  Moon has made it clear that while he values South Korea’s relationship with the United States, he believed that the country must learn to say no.  Moon won the snap election in a landslide, making him the first liberal South Korean president in nearly a decade.

Moon’s tenure as president of South Korea has been dominated by North Korea’s nuclear maneuvering.  Only four days after Moon’s inauguration on May 10, Pyongyang tested a missile it claimed was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the mainland of the United States.  Moon responded by testing the South Korean Hyunmoo 2c ballistic missile and South Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), as well as cooperating with U.S. forces to carry out live fire drills.  Moon asserted that he remained open to talks with Pyongyang; however, he would do so with a strong national defense.  Moon also reversed his campaign decision to halt South Korean cooperation with the United States on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), a theater missile defense program.  Moon took advantage of the 2018 Winter Olympics as a unique opportunity to open diplomatic talks with North Korea. In the games South and North Korean athletes walked under a common banner and played as one ice hockey team. Moon has since kept the diplomatic current alive, paying a state visit to Pyongyang in March of 2018 to open denuclearization talks.

Diplomacy with North Korea has been a central part of Moon’s presidency. With the recent historical summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the stakes were high for Moon, as he has worked to improve relations with North Korea and much of his presidency and success depends on this. Another theme of Moon Jae-in’s platform was creating stable jobs for citizens of South Korea. Immediately after Moon was sworn in as president, he raised the minimum wage in South Korea by 16 percent. However, this backfired, as thousands of people lost their jobs following this economic policy. Yet, Moon’s efforts with North Korea, both in improving South Korea’s relations with the North and in acting as a bridge between Trump and Kim Jong-Un, have largely overshadowed his somewhat failed economic policy. As the G20 Summit centers around financial stability, Moon’s goals for economic and job stability in South Korea will likely translate in his discussions at the summit in Argentina, as these are still central goals for Moon’s presidency.     

“I am a believer in dialogue, but I also know that dialogue is possible when we have a strong national defense.”     

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