Battle for Yongsan between Moon and Yoon

Battle for Yongsan between Moon and Yoon

Hi, this is the first preliminary issue of my Korea Kontext newsletter. Though it begins as a weekly newsletter, I intend to increase the frequency as soon as I get the knack for it.

My imaginary audience is those who read Korea news but want more context to connect the dots. I’ll be so grateful if you share with me what you want from this newsletter so please don’t hesitate to make comments.

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Moon clashes with Yoon again: this time on Presidential office relocation

Moon administration today expressed concern at President-elect Yoon’s plan to move the Office of the President to Yongsan from the Blue House.

Which also reads the current administration won’t cooperate.

  • President-elect has no authority in approving the budget to move the office. It requires the incumbent President’s blessing.
  • No cooperation = no move to Yongsan.

This is not the first time Moon and Yoon clashed since Yoon’s win at the election as the tweet above shows.

  • It is said that Yoon’s idea to pardon the incarcerated ex-President Lee Myung-bak was the dealbreaker.
  • While we can’t be sure why, Lee is widely seen as the main persecutor of his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, who killed himself during the corruption investigations under Lee’s administration.
  • Moon, the direct progressive successor of Roh and his personal friend too, wouldn’t welcome the idea.

Yoon’s transition team hit back today that Yoon will be working at the team’s office in Tongui-dong if Moon administration doesn’t cooperate.

It is still possible that things work out after the meeting of Moon and Yoon, which is yet scheduled. If they don’t, however, brace yourself for political chaos.

Trivia: it took more than 900 years to see Blue House’s affiliation to top political leadership finally end since King Sukjong of Goryeo built a palace there in 1104.

Is moving the office to Yongsan really a good idea, btw?

My short answer: now it’s not important anyway. Getting it done or not is the only thing that matters now.

There are a hundred reasons why it’s a good idea and another hundred for why it’s a bad idea. I can even list up counter-arguments to them, which can also be countered on other grounds:

  • For example, one who support the idea can argue that the current arrangement of the Blue House buildings harms the cooperation and communication of the Presidential office, which has been pointed out from time immemorial.
  • The other can refute it, arguing that since it’s a grave matter of national security it needs more discussion and delicate planning.
  • Then one can counter by saying that was exactly what made the outgoing President Moon couldn’t fulfill his promise to move the office to Gwanghwamun. Once you’re in, it is hard to get out of it. (This could go on and on…)

But now it’s less relevant as the Moon administration practically said it won’t cooperate. It’s now become more of a matter of partisanship. Which means it won’t end well for both.

It had been already a tough quest even before Moon took sides:

  • The plan is to make the Yongsan building, currently occupied by the Ministry of National Defense, ready by Yoon’s inauguration on May 10th. Very tight plan.
  • So there’s a good chance it may not be done by the day (and there will be very good reasons why it can’t be done, already offered by the MND officials who are already trying to torpedo the plan), which will make things look very bad for Yoon.

If successful, however, it will be a significant symbolic win for the new President as all the ROK Presidents (except Park Geun-hye) after Roh Tae-woo wanted to do something like this but failed.

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A look at the Yoon’s transition team

However, symbolic alone won’t do a good job at winning the incoming local election in June. One of the things the transition team is supposed to do is to discover the agenda that will ensure voters’ attention.

I don’t have much to say about the team right now but from what I’ve seen so far, it looks little more than the grand comeback of the previous conservative administrations.

Minjoo Party is having a hard time getting back on its feet

Embed from Getty Images

Even though the ruling Minjoo Party lost the big battle, another election is coming in less than three months.

They still have the greatest seats in the National Assembly ever in history. Almost to the absolute majority, they are capable of setting whatever agenda they want.

In order to do that Minjoo Party has to repent its defeat. However, it appears to be much harder than you think.

One party official has been under fire from fellow party politicians after saying in an interview that Moon has to repent for his failures. A dozen of Minjoo lawmakers even released a statement criticizing him.

The reason is simple: how dare you criticize Moon!

  • The official in question, Chae, is an outsider. Formerly a lawmaker of Ahn Cheol-soo’s People Party, he joined the Minjoo Party last December and now is a member of the emergency committee which was set up after the election defeat.
  • With Moon’s approval rate still above 40 percent (I gotta admit, it’s a miracle), the Moon loyalists are still strong.

While Moon is still popular, which is the mystery I want to dig deeper for the readers of this newsletter someday, it is also true he’s responsible for the defeat. But the cult of personality is holding them back.

Which makes the party’s prospect in the next local election look dim. But in this sense, People Power Party is no better—it could well turn out to be a battle in which who suck less win.

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