Bye-bye Blue House as S. Korean leader shuns imperial home

Bruno Cirelli
Mag 20, 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping called his new South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on Thursday to congratulate him on his inauguration, the first time such a call has been made from Beijing to Seoul and one that raises the prospect of a thaw in relations between the Asian neighbors.

In their phone call, Trump congratulated Moon on his election victory and his country's "peaceful, democratic transition of power", a White House statement said. The two leaders also agreed to strengthen their alliance, the White House said.

As he took the oath of office Wednesday, Moon Jae-in said he was open to visiting Pyongyang under the right conditions to discuss its nuclear program.

South Korea's presidential office did not say whether Moon and Trump discussed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system which the previous government agreed to host, greatly angering China.

Moon has taken a more conciliatory line with North Korea than his conservative predecessors and advocates engagement.

"If the conditions shape up, I will go to Pyongyang", Moon said.

Moon's softer stance on North Korea could create friction with Washington, which has swung from threats of military action to hints of dialogue as it seeks to formulate a policy under President Donald Trump.

"The talk about a South-North summit is a little premature, but regardless of that, there's a need for a summit meeting", Suh said.

"President Moon said he understands China's interest in the THAAD deployment and its concerns, and said he hopes the two countries can swiftly get on with communication to further improve each other's understanding", Yoon told a briefing.

Moon explained the difficulties faced by South Korean companies that were doing business in China and asked for Xi's "special attention" to ease those concerns, Yoon said.

Suh said Moon could go to Pyongyang if it was clear the visit would help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis and ease tensions. To his rivals, Moon said, "We are partners who must lead a new Republic of Korea". South Korea's relations with Japan are strained by the Japanese military's sexual exploitation of South Korean women during World War II, and relations with China have been irritated over the THAAD anti-missile system deployment.

Moon has said the decision was made hastily and his government should have the final say, but analysts say it would be hard to remove THAAD now it has been deployed.

Moon's pick for National Intelligence Service chief is Suh Hoon, a longtime intelligence official Moon said would be the right man to push reforms at NIS, which has always been accused of meddling in domestic politics.

The North Koreans often use the occasional talks to take the temperature of the USA government, since the two sides have had little direct contact in recent years.

While Washington is pushing for stepped-up pressure on Pyongyang, an unofficial US delegation including former senior USA officials held informal talks in Oslo on Monday and Tuesday with North Korean diplomats, including Choe Son Hui, director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's North America section. The American participants typically report their observations to the US administration.

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