SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Korea Bizwire) — In less than 100 days since taking office, new South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears to have successfully turned the boat around, mostly for the better, but also with many challenges that include escalating tension with communist North Korea.
The changes initiated by Moon during his first three months have been many and wide, as he pushes for all-embracing reforms of the nation, starting with the way the head of state is treated.
Just before he was sworn on May 10, Moon visited the leaders of each and every opposition party to ask for their support in running the nation, becoming the first new leader to do so in the country’s history.
Then on his way to move into the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae, Moon made himself available to the public waiting outside his new office, highlighting his open door policy even when it comes to his own protection.
Such a humble and friendly approach has been witnessed on numerous occasions, distinguishing Moon from any other former president here who were often seen, apparently to their liking, as an all powerful, if not divine, ruler instead of an elected leader.
For instance, the new president surprised many when he refused the help of a secret service agent in taking his jacket off before the start of his first meeting with his top presidential aides.
Now, no one bothers to provide the president or other ranking officials at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae with the kind of pampering requested by former leaders, according to officials at Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon’s attempt to remove such an authoritarian image from the country’s top elected office may derive from his need to differentiate his government from what he and his supporters frequently refer to as a 10-year hiatus under the two former conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye.
Moon came into office after winning a rare presidential by-election caused by the ouster of Park in March over a series of corruption allegations that have also kept her detained since that month.
His efforts have apparently paid off so far.
His approval rating has remained over 70 percent since his inauguration with the latest survey putting the number at 71.7 percent despite two consecutive weeks of drop.
Such popularity may have been possible due to his new initiatives and policies that many say are “cider-like,” but are now giving him the drive and support to introduce and implement those changes. Many South Koreans believe soda, especially cider, helps with digestion, a long-held belief formed during the developing era when the country did not have enough medicines to go around, including digestive aides.
His efforts to completely transform South Korea into what he calls a true nation worthy of being called a nation were again seen in his administration’s five policy objectives and 100 policy tasks, announced last month, that focus largely on expanding the income of the people, especially those in the lower brackets.
To this end, Moon has vowed to create nearly 1 million new jobs in the public sector alone during his single five-year term, starting with some 110,000 new jobs this year.
His most praised, and possibly the most far-reaching, initiatives include his recently unveiled plan to overhaul the national health care program under what many have come to call Moon Care.
The health care reform, once completed in 2020, will cut the average personal medical spending of all South Koreans by 18 percent and 46 percent for lowest-income earners, the president has said.
“Overall, the past 100 days could be defined by many important policies and efforts to directly communicate with the people. The new administration has been moving forward, introducing many new policies aimed at changing the very way we live our lives and build a nation that will protect and cherish each of our lives,” Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Park Soo-hyun told Yonhap News Agency.
Still, the president continues to face many serious challenges.
How to pay for the wide and numerous changes and reforms remains open to daily attacks from most opposition parties. The administration’s 100 policy tasks alone are estimated to cost an astonishing 178 trillion won (US$155.2 billion) over the 2018-2022 period, nearly half of the 400-trillion won set aside for entire government spending this year.
In addition, the government has said the health care reform will cost an additional 30.6 trillion won over the cited period.
How to contain an increasingly provocative North Korea also remains an important and equally urgent issue for the new liberal government, which had been widely expected to be able to thaw inter-Korean relations but has failed so far.
The Moon Jae-in administration earlier proposed holding military and Red Cross talks with the communist North to discuss ways to ease tension along the border, as well as humanitarian issues that include reunions between families separated by the countries’ division.
Pyongyang continues to remain completely silent, over one month after Seoul’s proposal was made.
Instead, the North has staged seven missile tests, with two involving claimed intercontinental ballistic missiles that prompted a fresh sanctions resolution by the U.N. Security Council.
The North is further escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula after threatening to carry out a missile strike exercise around the U.S.-controlled island of Guam, home to several U.S. military units.
On Friday, the Cheong Wa Dae spokesman said the U.S. has agreed to discuss any possible step it may take against North Korea with Seoul in advance, dismissing the possibility of the U.S. preemptively striking the communist state without Seoul’s knowledge, or possibly its consent.