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New South Korean President Takes Office, Faces Hard Issues


South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In speaks during a press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Moon has said he would do everything he could to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Moon Jae-in was sworn in as South Korea’s president Wednesday.

He took office just one day after the presidential election because South Korea has had an acting president since last December. That was when lawmakers voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye.

Moon spoke during his inauguration ceremony at the National Assembly building in Seoul. He promised the Korean people he would lead by example.

“I will be a clean president. I come to my inauguration for president with nothing in my hands and I will step out with nothing in my hands. Later, I will go back to my home and become an ordinary citizen,” Moon said.

Moon’s promise comes as Park awaits trial on corruption charges.

World leaders offered congratulations to the new South Korean president.

President Moon Jae-In talks over the phone with President Donald Trump.
President Moon Jae-In talks over the phone with President Donald Trump.

The United States said in a statement that it looks forward to “deepen the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries.”

President Donald Trump and Moon spoke by telephone Wednesday. They agreed to closely cooperate in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program.

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his congratulations to the new South Korean leader. He also said that China wanted to deal with disputes “appropriately” on the basis of trust and understanding.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he looked forward to working with Moon. Abe called South Korea one of Japan’s most important neighbors.

Difficult issues facing the new president

In his inauguration speech, Moon promised political reforms to put checks and balances on the power of the presidency. He also said he would increase government spending on education and jobs, while increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The new president said he would increase efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. He opened the possibility of visiting Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

“If needed I will fly directly to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo. And if conditions are met, I will go to Pyongyang. In order to bring about peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything I can,” he said.

The new president wants to increase contacts with North Korea, while continuing to pressure its government.

U.S. President Trump has wanted to increase pressure on the North by pushing for a tightening of sanctions. In addition, the U.S. armed forces recently carried out joint exercises with South Korea’s military.

A THAAD missile truck in South Korea.
A THAAD missile truck in South Korea.

However, Moon said recently that the decision to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea should have been made after the presidential election. The deployment has been met with protests in South Korea.

Also, Trump recently said South Korea should pay as much as $1 billion for the missile system. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, South Korea provides the land and supports facilities for THAAD, while the U.S. operates and repairs the missile system.

The deployment has increased tensions between South Korea and China. China opposes the antimissile system and having its powerful radar so close to the country’s border. It has cut back on Chinese traveling to South Korea and some imports to show its displeasure.

Moon, however, continues to place importance on the U.S. alliance with South Korea. He says the two countries want the same thing: to bring North Korea back to negotiations to peacefully solve the nuclear issue.

Some experts question if a policy of both engagement and pressure can be carried out successfully.

Katherine Moon is a Korea expert with the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She said a policy of engagement might help North Korea, but hurt efforts by the U.S. and allies in East Asia.

Speaking to VOA on Skype she said there were limits to the use of methods of engagement, which she termed the “good cop” approach and those of pressure, a “bad cop” approach.

“It doesn’t hurt to have a good cop, bad cop when you’re dealing with a very tough opponent, which North Korea is. But we are not in an ideal world situation in politics, and definitely the times right now don’t call for that much of a good cop, frankly.”

Moon Jae-in was the presidential candidate of South Korea’s Democratic Party. He won the election with 41 percent of the vote.

He takes office at a time when the country is struggling with the arrest of Park Geun-hye and tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs. South Koreans also are concerned about the economy, job growth, trade ties and opportunities for young people.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Brian Padden reported this story for VOANews.com; Youmi Kim provided information for his report. Mario Ritter adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

impeach - v. to charge (a public official) with a crime done while in office

inauguration – n. the ceremony starting the term of a president or other high official

domestic – adj. relating to one’s own country

facilities – n. structures such as buildings and heavy equipment

engagement – n. the process of being involved in something

cop – n. police officer

sanction – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.​

opportunity – n. a good chance for progress or forward movement

checks and balances – expression, a system of government that prevents any one branch of government from using too much power

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