You Can Tell A Moon Jae-In By The Company He Keeps

(MENAFN- Asia Times) This article was originally published May 14, 2017 under the headline“Moon's right-hand man former friend to the North.” It was republished on June 18, 2020, after then-Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok was mentioned as then-President's Moon Jae-in's possible nominee for the post of unification minister. Someone else ended up getting that job but now we are publishing the piece for the third time, with new headlines, in response to the news that ex-President Moon has said in a newly published memoir that he credits Kim Jong Un's promise to abandon the North's nuclear weapons.

As US investigators hunkered down last week to investigate whether US President Donald Trump's election campaign colluded with a hostile government, South Korea's new president was appointing a right-hand man about whom there could be no doubt.

Im Jong-seok served a prison term for behavior that a court considered aiding his country's main enemy, North Korea. Im was convicted and sentenced in 1989 after arranging an illegal visit to Pyongyang by a fellow leftist activist, a visit that North Korea's regime milked for propaganda advantage. And now he's chief of staff to President Moon Jae-in.

There seems to be little surprise in Seoul about the appointment of Im, who's now 51. After all, Moon is a former militant anti-government activist. Later, he was a close supporter of two earlier presidents' decade-long pursuit of the“Sunshine” policy of making nice to the North in the hope the two could negotiate their differences.

Moon has since his election sought to downplay his differences with US policy toward North Korea. So the suggestion that Im's appointment sounds like an appalling development is left to just a few observers.

Those include the conservative Liberty Korea Party, which expressed“regret” and said the move intensifies concerns about Moon's own position toward North Korea.

Another is yours truly, who happened to be in Pyongyang in 1989 – for the World Festival of Students and Youth, when the activist's forbidden visit occurred – and again in 1992, when the Northern regime was showing off the propaganda fruits. Here's the story:

Whatever cosmetic touches North Korea had employed to inflate its claims of having created a“paradise,” and however far behind South Korea – and China – it had fallen in reality, the country in 1989 still managed an appearance of dynamism that appealed to some people outside its borders.

The ideology was even proving exportable to South Korea. A virulent Pyongyang fever on campuses had become a severe complicating factor in the South's quest for stability.

Radically inclined South Korean students were attracted to North Korean President Kim Il Sung's teachings of revolutionary egalitarianism, economic self-sufficiency, unification zeal and anti-Americanism. His pre-liberation guerrilla opposition to the Japanese made him a patriot hero in their eyes.

Based on that interest, the Kims appeared to continue hoping that a resurgence of unrest in the South would lead to a leftist insurrection, reversing the otherwise clear course of history and paving the way to reunification on Pyongyang's terms.

Until then, the major influences on Koreans in the South as well as the North had been authoritarian. They had lived under the dynastic system of royalty and hereditary nobles backed up with Chinese Confucian thought. Then they had lived under the emperor-worshipping Japanese colonial regime.

The only major difference was that from 1945 South Korea received American influence; North Korea received Soviet and then Chinese communist influence. American-style democracy was far from transforming South Korean politics completely. The authoritarian tradition held sway among political leaders of all stripes even after a relatively free election in 1987.


Asia Times

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