Moon Jae-in

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Moon Jae-in
Moon Jae-in 2017-10-01.jpg
12th President of South Korea
Assumed office
May 10, 2017
Prime MinisterHwang Kyo-ahn
Yoo Il-ho (Acting)
Lee Nak-yeon
Chung Sye-kyun
Preceded byPark Geun-hye
Hwang Kyo-ahn (Acting)
Leader of the Democratic Party
In office
February 9, 2015 – January 27, 2016
Preceded byMoon Hee-sang (interim)
Succeeded byKim Chong-in (interim)
Member of the National Assembly
In office
May 30, 2012 – May 29, 2016
Preceded byChang Je-won
Succeeded byChang Je-won
ConstituencySasang (Busan)
Chief of Staff to the President
In office
March 12, 2007 – February 24, 2008
PresidentRoh Moo-hyun
Preceded byLee Byung-wan
Succeeded byYu Woo-ik
Personal details
Born (1953-01-24) January 24, 1953 (age 67)
Geoje, South Korea
Political partyDemocratic
Kim Jung-sook (m. 1981)
ResidenceBlue House
EducationKyung Hee University (LLB)
WebsiteOfficial website
Military service
Allegiance South Korea
Branch/service Republic of Korea Army
Years of service1975–1978
RankROK Army Byeongjang.png Sergeant (Korean: Byeongjang)
UnitArmy Special Warfare Command
Battles/warsOperation Paul Bunyan (Supporting member in the rear)[1]
Moon Jae-in
Moon Jae-in (East Asian characters).svg
Moon's name in hangul (top) and hanja (bottom)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationMun Jaein
McCune–ReischauerMun Chaein
IPAmundʑɛin or mun t͡ɕɛin

Moon Jae-in (Korean문재인; Hanja文在寅; Korean pronunciation: [mundʑɛin] or [munt͡ɕɛin]; born January 24, 1953) is a South Korean politician serving as President of South Korea since 2017.[2][3][4][5] He was elected after the impeachment of Park Geun-hye as the candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea.[6][7]

A former student activist, human rights lawyer and chief of staff to then-president Roh Moo-hyun,[8] Moon served as leader of Democratic Party of Korea (2015–2016) and a member of the 19th National Assembly (2012–2016). He was also a candidate for the Democratic United Party in the 2012 presidential election in which he lost narrowly to Park Geun-hye.

As president, Moon Jae-in has met with North Korean chairman Kim Jong-un at inter-Korean summits in April, May, and September 2018 making him the third South Korean president to meet their North Korean counterpart. On June 30, 2019, Moon met with both North Korean chairman Kim Jong-un and United States president Donald Trump at the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Early life, education and military service

Upon the end of the Korean War, Moon Jae-in was born in Geoje, South Korea as the second child and oldest son among five children of father Moon Yong-hyung and mother Kang Han-ok. His parents were refugees from South Hamgyeong Province, North Korea who fled their native city of Hungnam during the Hungnam evacuation during Korean War.[9] His father, Moon Yong-hyung, worked as head of agriculture department who detains food, especially rice of Korean colonial people as one of the main tasks at the Heungnam, Hamju, South Hamgyong Province.[10][11]

His family eventually settled in Busan. Since his father did not want to become a government employee, as he had been in North Korea, his father started a business selling socks, which left his family in great debt. His mother became the main earner by selling clothes received from relief organisations and delivering briquettes. Moon's family became attached to the Catholic Church when his mother went to the local cathedral to receive whole milk powder. Moon once said in an interview that he didn't know how to ride a bike since his family was too desperately poor to afford a bike or monthly school tuition.

Moon entered Kyungnam High School as the top of his class.[9][12] He was accepted to study law at Kyung Hee University with a full scholarship.[13] There he met his future wife, Kim Jung-sook. After organising a student protest against the Yushin Constitution, he was arrested, convicted, imprisoned and expelled from the university.[9][14][15] Later, he was conscripted into the military and assigned to the South Korean special forces, where he participated in "Operation Paul Bunyan" during the axe murder incident in Panmunjom.[16][17]

After his discharge, the death of his father influenced him to decide to take the bar exam. He went into Daeheungsa, the Buddhist temple, to study for the exam and passed the first of two rounds in 1979. In 1980 he returned to the university to complete his remaining year of studies. Later that year, he passed the second round and was admitted to the Judicial Research and Training Institute. He graduated from the Institute as the second in his class but was not admitted to become a judge or state prosecutor due to his history of activism against the Yushin dictatorship under Park Chung-hee's rule as a student.[18] Moon chose to go into private practice instead.

Early career

Human rights lawyer

After becoming a lawyer, he partnered and worked with future president Roh Moo-hyun in the 1980s.[19] Along with Roh, he took cases involving the labor rights issues and became renowned for his work in labor human rights.[20] They remained friends up until Roh's suicide in 2009.

He was a founding member of the progressive South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh, in 1988.[21][22]

Roh Moo-hyun administration

Yielding to Roh's insistence, Moon became Roh's campaign manager during his presidential bid.[23] After Roh's victory, Moon became Roh's close aide holding various roles in a presidential administration. Moon held roles as Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs, Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Society and Chief Presidential Secretary from 2003–2008.

When the National Assembly voted to impeach Roh in 2004, Moon led the legal delegation for Roh at the Constitutional Court and won the case.

Moon as Roh's chief of staff led of the preparation committee of the 2nd Inter-Korean Summit but did not attend the summit.

Political career before the presidency

Entrance to politics

Despite his earlier indifference, he began to get involved in politics. He published a memoir called Moon Jae-in: The Destiny which became a bestseller.[24] His popularity had been rising steady against the likely opponent in the presidential race, Park Geun-hye. For instance, in a February 2012 poll, Moon rivaled Park in popularity.[25]

Moon managed to capitalize on the conservatives' decline in popularity amid a series of corruption scandals. As one pundit said, "Moon had managed to portray himself as a moderate and rational leader who has the backing of the younger generation".[26]

2012 general election

In 2012, Moon entered a bid for a seat in the National Assembly in the 19th legislative election. Moon won a seat in the Sasang District of Busan on April 11, 2012 as a member of the Democratic United Party with 55% of the vote.[13]

2012 presidential campaign

On September 16, 2012, Moon received the presidential nomination for the Democratic United Party.

He ran for the 2012 presidential election as the Democratic United Party's candidate in a three-way race against Park Geun-hye, the incumbent ruling party's candidate and daughter of the late president Park Chung-hee,[27] as well as independent software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo. Ahn dropped out of the race and endorsed Moon after polls showed a most likely definitive loss for both candidates were there to be a three-way race against Park. Moon went on to lose the election.

Leader of the Democratic Party

Moon was elected as the leader of New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) on February 2, 2015. Prior to his election, Moon and NPAD party leader and 2012 presidential candidate rival Ahn Cheol-soo had many public disputes over the direction of the party.

Moon's official role led Ahn Cheol-soo to quit and form the centrist People's Party. Ahn's departure and Moon's new tenure as party leader led to renaming the liberal, NPAD Party as the new Democratic Party.

During his leadership, Moon scouted several politically prominent people, including police studies/criminology expert Pyo Chang-won, political critic Lee Chul-hee, and former president Park's secretary Cho Ung-chun to prepare for upcoming 2016 legislative elections. After his recruitment, Moon resigned his position for another scouted advisor/former Park advisor Kim Chong-in.[28]

2017 presidential election

Primary and general election

Moon in 2017

Moon was considered the frontrunner to win Korea's 2017 presidential election, which would be the 19th term of the country's presidency, following the Impeachment of Park Geun-hye.

He won the Democratic Party's nomination against fellow party members Ahn Hee-jung, Lee Jae-myung, and Choi Sung with 57% of the votes.

The general election originally had 15 announced candidates. Moon faced four other major party nominees during the election, including 2012 presidential rival and past party colleague Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party and Hong Jun-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party. He was elected the 19th president of South Korea in Korea's 19th presidential election by a large plurality over two.

On May 10, 2017, Moon won the election with a plurality of 41.1% votes (out of 13,423,800 votes nationwide).[29] As Moon was elected in a special election, he did not have the usual 60-day transition period of previous administrations, but was instead inaugurated the day after the election.

Campaign positions on domestic policy

Economic policy

Moon's campaign promise in 2017 included intentions to put a 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) fiscal stimulus to support job creation, start-ups, and small to mid-sized companies. His announced goal is to create 810,000 public sector jobs through raising taxes on the wealthy.[30]

Moon's policy against corporate corruption, specifically in regards to Korean conglomerates known as "chaebols " is to give "minority shareholders more power in electing board members" of the companies.[30]


Moon also promised transparency in his presidency, moving the presidential residence from the palatial and isolated Blue House to an existing government complex in downtown Seoul.[31]

Social issues

In a televised presidential debate, Moon said he opposes homosexuality, in response to conservative candidate Hong Jun-pyo's remarks that gay soldiers were a source of weakness in the South Korean military. Moon's remark prompted immediate criticism during the debate from Sim Sang-jung, the sole presidential candidate to support LGBT rights and a member of the left wing Justice Party.[32] The conservative remark also prompted outrage from gay rights activists, considering Moon's representation as the leading liberal candidate and former human rights lawyer. Some of Moon's supporters dismissed the comments as a necessity to win, as South Koreans tend to be conservative in social issues.[33] Moon later clarified his comments suggesting that he still believes there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation while opposing legalizing same-sex marriage.[34]

Campaign positions on foreign policy

Moon has favored a peaceful reunification between the two Koreas. He was both widely criticized and widely praised for his comments stating that his first visit if elected president would be to visit North Korea, a visit that would be not unlike Roh Moo-hyun's visit to the country in 2007. Similarly, Moon's foreign policy towards North Korea is considered to closely align with the Sunshine Policy embraced by former liberal presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.[22]

His 2017 presidential campaign has supported re-opening of the Kaesong industrial park.[35]

Moon's relatively liberal stance in foreign policy is reflected as he is quoted in a book: "I'm pro-U.S., but now South Korea should adopt diplomacy in which it can discuss a U.S. request and say no to the Americans."[36] He opposes a re-balance of the security alliance with the United States, but has also stated that he would like South Korea "to be able to take the lead on matters on the Korean Peninsula."[22] At the same time, Moon has stated that he considers America as a "friend" for its role in helping South Korea avoid communism while helping its economic growth.[37]


Moon Jae-in takes the presidential oath at the National Assembly, May 10, 2017.
Moon Jae-in's presidential Job Approval rating

Moon was sworn into office immediately after official votes were counted on 10 May, replacing Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn. There was no transition period between the election and inauguration, unlike other presidential elections due to the nature of an election following a presidential impeachment.[38] He will serve out the typical single five-year term with his presidential term concluding in 2022.[39]

Domestic policy

Chaebol (Korean Inc.) reform

South Korea's economic growth has been attributed in large part to Chaebols, or family-owned conglomerates. Prominent examples of conglomerates include Samsung and Hyundai,[40] concentrated power (collusion), connections with the government including most recently the 2016 Choi Soon-sil scandal which ultimately led to the special election Moon won. Moon subsequently appointed "chaebol sniper" Kim Sang-jo, a well-known shareholder activist, to the role of fair-trade commissioner aimed at reforming chaebols.[41]

Minimum Wage

His government has launched a series of minimum wage hikes. One of these was in 2018, which raised the minimum wage by 16.4% from the previous year to 7,530 won (US$6.65) an hour.[42][43] The income of the lowest 20% of earners fell by 3.7% in the second quarter of the year the increase was implemented compared with the same period last year.[43]

Maximum hour work week

The maximum hour work week was reduced from 68 to 52.[44] In October 2018, a study conducted by a telecommunications firm found that in central Seoul the amount of time people spent in or near their workplace fell by 55 minutes, and time spent of leisure activities went up in residential areas.[43] However, they found little to no change elsewhere in the country.[43] Bars and restaurants in central Seoul reported a loss in business.[43]


Moon's predecessor and daughter of Park Chung-hee, Park Geun-hye, originally planned to mandate usage of state-issued history textbooks in 2018. Moon reversed these plans in May 2017 in one of his first major acts as president. Critics of Park's original plan saw this as a way for Park to mitigate some representations of her father's oppressive policies under a dictatorial rule, only highlighting the positive accomplishments of the past. Park had stated she wanted to replace the "left-leaning" books with those created from the government that would instil greater patriotism.[45] Although the Park government had responded to backlash by switching its official position on requiring the textbooks and allowing schools to choose the state-issued, Moon's action scrapped the program altogether. Schools will continue to choose privately published, government-approved textbooks written under educational guidelines instead.[46]

Animal rights/adoption of "First Dog"

Moon had promised during his campaign to adopt a dog from an animal sanctuary. This was considered relevant to South Korean politics as the country allows for consumption of dog meat. He adopted Tory, a four-year-old black mongrel who was saved from a dog meat farm, from an animal rights group. The move was considered to send "a strong message against the [dog meat] trade".[47]


Moon meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, September 6, 2017

Moon's administration has focused on increasing South Korea's consumption of natural gas, away from nuclear and coal as sources of energy. These plans include delaying construction on nuclear reactors as well as re-opening dialogue around a natural gas pipeline that would come from Russia and pass through North Korea.[48] At the event on June 19, 2017 marking the end of operations at South Korea's oldest nuclear reactor, Kori Unit 1, Moon outlined his plan for the future of energy in Korea, saying "we will abandon the development policy centred on nuclear power plants and exit the era of nuclear energy." This would be implemented by canceling plans for new nuclear power plants and not renewing licenses for operating plants. In addition, he shut down eight coal-fired power plants upon assuming office in May 2017, and pledged to shut down the remaining ten coal plants by the end of his term. In the long term, he envisioned renewable sources would eventually be able to meet Korea's demand, but in the interim, proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a stopgap measure while coal and nuclear were taken offline in the coming decades.[49]

Coronavirus outbreak

More than 1.5 million South Koreans have signed a petition to impeach Moon over what they claimed was the government's mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.[50] In response, more than 1.3 million South Koreans have signed a petition to support Moon in just two weeks over what they claimed was the governmen's capable control of the coronavirus.[51]

Meanwhile, an opinion poll conducted between 5 March 2020 to 6 March 2020 by Embrain, a public polling company, has shown that 53% of the public have a positive evaluation of President Moon's handling of the coronavirus crisis.[52] An opinion poll by Gallup Korea in the first week of March 2020 showed Moon's approval rating rising by 2% to 44%, due to public's approval of the Moon's administration's handling of the outbreak.[53]

According to the Yonhap News Agency, James Kim, the Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea stated that "Korea is proactively and transparently dealing with COVID-19. The confirmed cases are surging in Korea, due to the country’s well-prepared testing procedures compared to other countries." [54] CNBC's Matt McCarthy, a New York City doctor, praised Moon's government work on solving the coronavirus crisis, stating that "South Korea had been able to test tens of thousands of people. With the country’s aggressive testing efforts, Korea’s death toll from the disease is less than 1%, while the global average is 3.4%. This is thanks to the government’s early preparation for the outbreak of infectious diseases."[55]

Foreign policy

International relations

U.S. president Donald Trump welcomes President Moon on June 30, 2017, in the White House Rose Garden
Moon with U.S. president Donald Trump at the height of the North Korea crisis in November 2017

Moon visited the United States to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2017, discussing U.S.-Korea trade relations as well as North Korea's missile programs.[56] Moon revealed in a joint news conference that President Trump accepted an invitation to visit South Korea.[57]

North Korea

Kim and Moon shake hands in greeting at the demarcation line.
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and Moon shake hands inside the Peace House.

Outlining his North Korea strategy in a speech in Berlin, Germany, on July 6, 2017, Moon characterized the process leading to unification as a long-term project, rather than laying out any detailed plans for a unified Korea. He emphasized alliance with the United States and specified the need to assure dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program. At the same time he presented the question of unification in a regional context and signaled his hopes of working in cooperation with the international community. He supported sanctions against North Korea, while leaving open the possibility of their being rescinded, and indicated that it is crucial to establish a peace treaty with North Korea to end the Korean War officially in exchange for denuclearization.[58]

Moon opposed the full deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) systems during his presidential campaign and called for more peace talks engaging with North Korea.

As of late July, following North Korea's latest missile launch and increasingly aggressive actions, Moon asked the U.S. permission to build up its domestic defense systems and temporarily set up a full THAAD system.[59]

Moon met with Kim Jong-un, Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, on April 27, 2018.[60]

Kim and Moon met again on 26 May. The second meeting was also at the DMZ, this time on the North Korean side of the Panmunjom village.[61] The meeting took two hours. The meeting had not been publicly announced beforehand.[62] The meeting was largely centered around the cancelled summit with Donald Trump.[61]

In September 2018, Moon Jae-in visited Pyongyang in the September 2018 inter-Korean summit. He and 150 delegates—including prominent figures in business, culture, and religion—flew to the Sunan Airport in Pyeongyang and met with Kim Jong-un.[63] The two Korean leaders announced an agreement to decrease hostilities on the DMZ, further joint-economic projects, and open North Korean weapons facilities to international experts.[64] The leaders also gave a speech to 150,000 North Korean citizens in the Rungrado 1st of May Stadium with themes of unification, lasting peace, and friendship.[65] Moon fulfilled his dream by trekking Mount Paektu.


In January 2019, South Korea's unemployment rate hit 4.5%,[66] the highest number observed for the month of January since 2010,[67] while the youth unemployment rate, which tracks Koreans aged 25–34 who have not secured jobs, reached its highest in South Korea in 19 years. According to Statistics Korea, 338,000 young Koreans were unemployed in July 2018. The number is the highest since youth unemployment marked 434,000 in 1999, as the nation was still recovering from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Some experts said the current Moon Jae-in government's purportedly pro-labor policies, including the raise in minimum wage, which led The Wall Street Journal to call President Moon Jae-In's economic program "Asia’s most radical left-wing",[68] and reduction of maximum weekly work hours from 68 to 52, may be contributors to the increasing number of Koreans unable to find jobs.[69]

In November 2018, the Financial Times reported that President Moon Jae-In replaced Kim Dong-yeon, finance minister, by Hong Nam-ki, an economic policy official currently serving in the prime minister's office, and Jang Ha-sung, presidential chief of staff for policy. The two officials had themselves clashed in recent weeks, with Mr. Kim pushing to depart from Mr. Moon's trademark “income-led growth” policy that seeks to create a virtuous cycle of increased incomes, consumption and employment. Mr. Jang, considered the architect of the trickle-up policy, publicly disagreed with Mr. Kim. The reshuffle sets the stage for new economic ideas "in a nation that is struggling to transition away from its once-successful manufacturing model".[70]

Electoral history

Election Year Position Party Affiliation Votes Percentage of votes Results
19th General Election 2012 Member of the National Assembly
(Sasang District, Busan)
Democratic United Party 65,336 55.05% Won
18th Presidential Election 2012 President Democratic United Party 14,692,632 48.02% Lost (2nd)
19th Presidential Election 2017 President Democratic Party of Korea 13,423,800 41.08% Won


National honours

Foreign honours

Personal life


Kim Jung-sook with Ivanka Trump at the 2018 Winter Olympics, February 24, 2018

Moon married Kim Jung-sook, a vocalist from the same university he attended. He and Kim both individually revealed in separate Korean talk shows that they met each other when Moon was a student activist protesting the Yushin Constitution.[73]


Moon and Kim now live with at least four dogs and a cat at the Blue House.

Before elected as the president in 2017, they lived with several dogs and cats who were all once abandoned by their previous guardians. Among those, a dog Maru (마루, a Pungsan dog) and a cat Jjing-jjing (or Jjing-Jjing-ee 찡찡 or 찡찡이) have been confirmed to live with them at the Blue House either by the media or its official social media posts. Jjing-jjing is the country's first-ever "First Cat."[74]

After settling in at the official presidential residence at the Blue House, a dog Tory (토리, a mixed-breed) was adopted from an animal shelter in contrast with other "First Dogs" who have traditionally been purebred Jindo dogs.[75][76] In regards to Tory's adoption, Moon stated that "we need to pay more attention to abandoned animals and care for them as a society" and that he wanted to remove the stigma against Tory's dark coat, which contributed to him being virtually un-adoptable for two years after he was rescued in 2015.[77]

Moon and Kim with puppies of the dogs sent from Pyongyang

He also received a pair of Pungsan dogs male Song-gang (송강) and female Gom-ee (곰이) from North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un as a gift shortly after meeting in September 2018.[78] Gom-ee later gave birth to six puppies San-ee, Deul-ee, Gang-ee, Byul-ee, Dal-ee and Hen-nim (산이, 들이, 강이, 별이, 달이 and 햇님) named after Korean words for parts of nature - a mountain, grass field, a river, a star, the Moon and the Sun. On August 30, 2019, six puppies have been sent to Seoul, Incheon, Daejeon and Gwangju leaving their parents at the Blue House.[79]


Moon is the third Korean president who is a Catholic, after the late former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun (a lapsed Catholic),[80] as well as his wife, First Lady Kim Jung-sook. He is the second leader who remains a practicing Catholic while in office; his baptismal (or Christian) name is Timothy.[81]


His nicknames is the "Dark King" (Korean명왕; Hanja冥王; RRMyeong-wang), after the character Silvers Rayleigh from the Japanese manga series One Piece.[82]

See also



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External links

National Assembly of South Korea
Preceded by
Chang Je-won
Member of the National Assembly
from Sasang District

Succeeded by
Chang Je-won
Party political offices
Preceded by
Ahn Cheol-soo
Kim Han-gil
Leader of the Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Kim Chong-in
Political offices
Preceded by
Lee Byung-wan
Chief Presidential Secretary
Succeeded by
Yu Woo-ik
Preceded by
Park Geun-hye
Hwang Kyo-ahn
President of South Korea
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