Liberal reformer Moon Jae-in was sworn in today after winning a snap election to replace impeached President Park Geun-hye. Moon has advocated dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in stark contrast to Park’s approach of tough sanctions and aggressive rhetoric.
Speaking at his swearing in ceremony, Moon promised to “resolve the security crisis as soon as possible. Under the right conditions, I will … go to Pyongyang. For peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do.”
A former special forces soldier and human rights lawyer, Moon came in for criticism during the campaign from hardline conservatives who saw him as weak on North Korea. He has called for a combination of negotiations and economic cooperation alongside military and security measures.
His stance has been compared to the so-called “Sunshine Policy” of the liberal governments of 1998 to 2008. By no coincidence, he was a key adviser to those administrations. During the Sunshine Policy, Seoul actively engaged Pyongyang, which led to closer relations on both sides of the border and saw two South Korean Presidents visit the North Korean capital. However, the approach ultimately failed to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Moon, who took office today, is unlikely to get a long honeymoon when it comes to North Korea. Experts have been predicting an imminent nuclear test, North Korea’s sixth, for weeks now, as the country ramps up missile testing and saber rattling. On Sunday, Pyongyang announced it had detained a US citizen on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the regime, days after it accused Seoul and Washington of plotting to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un using “biochemical weapons.”