What is going on in the Blue House? What is going on in President Moon Jae-in’s head? As soon as he joined the sanctions on North Korea, he suggests 8 million dollars of humanitarian aid to North Koreans. Although the sanctions are not certainly designed to starve North Koreans to death, everyone who knows North Korea should know the North Korean regime has misappropriated the humanitarian aid to fund its expensive military programs. Even the North Korean exiles tell us not to aid their home country. The reality is harsh and we are facing the helpless situation: aid to North Korea cannot help the famine-struck North Koreans.
Needless to say, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe disagrees with Moon. Although the US government has not made a statement yet, given all the efforts President Donald Trump has put in persuading President Xi Jingping and President Vladimir Putin to join the sanctions, it is not difficult to image the disappointment of President Trump. On Sep 15, Abe asked to Moon on the phone to reconsider the timing of the aid. The next day, however, Moon has resurrected the Bureau of Humanitarian Cooperation, which was set up in 2007 by the Roh Mu-hyun administration and shut down by 2009 by the Lee Myung-bak administration, as a division of the Ministry of Unification.
It is quite unclear why Moon Jae-in is making a fuss over the humanitarian aid. It seems Moon has alienated himself not only from the sanctions but also from the tripartite (the United States, South Korea, and Japan) cooperative defense against the North Korean nuclear threat. What is Moon’s intention? What does he really want? Does he see China as his patron? Given the fact that the South Korean leader ruffled Xi’s feathers by agreeing the deployment of the THAAD, it is unrealistic for China to back him up. Does he expect to find a way to work with Pyongyang under the banner of the “One Korea” nationalism? Pyongyang has already lambasted Moon’s carrot-and-stick approach. It is clear that Kim Jong-un will not tolerate any antinuclear remark. Then, why is the South Korean leader still clinging to the very obsolete Sunshine Policy?
My hypothesis is that Moon is just a puppet; the most influential man in the Moon Jae-in administration would be Im Jong-seok, one of Moon’s most trusted henchmen and the current chief presidential secretary. Prior to joining Moon’s camp, he was the chairman for Park Won-soon’s re-election campaign for the mayor of Seoul. Park was re-elected and Im became his deputy mayor for political affairs. Park had been the leading left-wing presidential hopeful until Moon headhunted Im as his right-hand man in Sep, 2016. He also served as Moon’s chief of staff during the primary and 2017 presidential election. Thus, it is safe to say Im Jong-seok is the kingmaker of the South Korean Left.
Back in the 80s, he was one of the authorities’ most wanted left-wing activists: since his early years in student activism, Im remains a member of the ultra-left nationalism, known as National Liberation (NL), and an adherent of the Juche ideology, North Korea’s official state philosophy, and he is one of the few NL activists who still reject the renunciation of the Juche ideology. The other notable NL activist is Lee Seok-ki, the mastermind behind the 2013 South Korean sabotage plot. They are not spontaneous left-leaning idealists but elite revolutionaries directly connected to Pyongyang. It is safe to assume Im is anti-American to the bone.
How powerful is the NL faction in South Korea? We can surmise by counting the groups that joined the movement for the release of Lee Seok-ki: the most notable group was the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, under which the radical National Union of Mediaworkers, Korean Government Employees’ Union, and Korean Teachers & Educational Workers’ Union operate. In the past, not surprisingly, KTCU was the vanguard group fighting for the NL’s cause; the unions violently engaged the police on numerous occasions, most notably anti-USFK (US Forces Korea) protests an anti-FTA (free trade agreement with the USA only) protests. I may remind you that the three unions have played a crucial role in the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and also endorsed Moon Jae-in for the election. KTCU was the main sponsor of the so-called Candlelight Revolution, and still continues to hold rallies in Seoul to push on its demands onto Moon Jae-in: the slogan is, “Pay Your Candlelight Debt.” Perhaps, the untold reason Im Jong-seok left Park Won-soon for Moon Jae-in was because Moon was more ideology-driven than Park.
The unions have demanded Chavista Venezuela as a model society and expressed a strong antipathy toward chaebols, free market, and free trade. However, there are many reasons that the new president cannot pay all the bills that the powerful unions have sent him. Although Moon is a democratically elected president, his hold on power is not firm yet. If Moon meets all the demands of the unions, the impact will be detrimental to the South Korean economy; it will cause an instant backlash from the middle class.
Another pillar of the Moon Jae-in administration is the Moon loyalists: they are not necessarily North Korean sympathizers but simply the followers of Moon Jae-in. Their best interest is not the National Liberation doctrine but the privileges they can have as long as Moon and his successors stay in power. The Moon loyalists know anti-American foreign policy will cast a cloud over the future of Moon’s presidency and thus their privileged status. In other words, the Moon Jae-in administration is being torn in two between the NL elites and the Moon loyalists. When Moon agreed the deployment of the THAAD, it seriously offended the NL faction. Given Im’s pro-North Korean activities and the influence he has over Moon, it is a reasonable doubt that the chief presidential secretary has persuaded the South Korean president to sent the 8 million dollars to North Korea. Perhaps he is not the second most powerful man in South Korea but the most powerful. I wish my speculation is a mere conspiracy theory. But the National Liberation leftists are as perilous as Kim Jong-un. Don’t be too optimistic about the NL faction – you’re warned.