Debate in South Korean Media Over Ban Ki-moon’s Intentions to Run for ROK Presidency

Ban Ki-moon recently returned from a trip to South Korea. Newspapers in South Korea during his visit were filled with discussion and consideration of his activities regarding the possibility he would run for the presidency of the country in its next election. Headlines such as “Ban Ki-moon seems ready to run in 2017”(1), “Ban Ki-moon’s comments on presidential run polarize ruling and opposition parties”(2), “Ban Ki-moon Hints at Presidential Ambitions”(3), “[Ban Ki-moon’s Six Days] Body on the Path of a Presidential Candidate, While His Words Argue, ‘Don’t Exaggerate’”(4). These are just a few of the many articles that filled the pages of the South Korean media.

Such articles in the South Korean press are not new. For example in February 2015, the Korea Times carried an article, “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon testing water for S. Korean presidency” (5) This earlier article described how Kim Won-soo, who Ban Ki-moon brought to the UN with him when he became Secretary General in 2007, “is leading exploratory efforts, shuttling to and from Seoul.”

The recent articles noted that Ban didn’t hesitate to hint that he was considering running for the South Korean presidency. One article quoted Ban responding to a direct question about his thoughts about running for the presidency. Ban explained, “I never thought I will be a president, but I am proud and grateful that such a possibility is raised at home, because it means I didn’t live a life in vain and my efforts are appreciated.” (6)

While the media seemed in agreement that Ban’s intentions to run were clear from his May visit to South Korea. The media differed as to whether such an intention would be helpful or a problem for South Korean politics.

Also raised was the fact that there is a UN General Assembly Resolution, Resolution 11(1) passed on January 24, 1946 which includes a section discouraging any UN Secretary General from seeking a governmental position where he could abuse the contacts he has had as UN Secretary General after he leaves office at the UN. The Resolution also discourages any member nation of the UN from offering such a position to a former UN Secretary General, especially in the immediate years after he leaves his UN office. The provision of the Resolution says:

“Because a Secretary-General is a confident of many governments, it is desirable that no Member should offer him, at any rate immediately upon retirement, any governmental position in which his confidential information might be a source of embarrassment to other Members, and on his part a Secretary-General should refrain from accepting any such position.”

The prohibition in this UN resolution was raised in South Korea by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon who maintained that such a prohibition means that Ban Ki-moon should not run for the South Korean presidency, especially not immediately when leaving his UN position as Secretary General.

Yet Ban Ki-moon did not appear to refer to any reason to consider such an obligation to the UN in the media coverage of his activities in South Korea. And when the UN Spokesman for the Secretary General was asked about Ban’s view of this resolution, he responded that Ban Ki-moon is aware of the resolution and that he will make a decision once his UN term ends.

Another concern raised in articles about Ban’s considering to run for the South Korean presidency was the fact that he has not made any progress in the efforts to contribute to peace on the Korean Peninsula between South Korea and North Korea.

Quoting an unnamed former South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, an article in Hankyoreh explains:

“’If a South Korean UN Secretary-General finishes ten years in office without visiting North Korea once, any presidential run is a fantasy’, said a former Minister of Foreign Affairs.

‘But everything could change if he can visit the North, meet Kim Jong-un, and contribute in some way to peace on the peninsula. He should remember the precedent set in 1994 when former US President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea, met with Kim Il-sung, and helped avoid a war and arrange for an inter-Korean summit’.”(7)

How the member nations of the UN General Assembly will respond if Ban Ki-moon does offer himself as a candidate for the South Korean presidency is also an issue that it will be important to follow. Ban Ki-moon has had contact with many world leaders as the UN Secretary General and what the impact of such a background would be on his actions in office if he does pursue the South Korean presidency would raise important questions about the how the office of Secretary General of the UN is available to be used or abused.

Notes

1)Korea Joongang Daily, May 27, 2016
http://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/Article.aspx?aid=3019243

2)Hankyoreh, May 26, 2016
http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/745561.html

3)The Chosun Ilbo, May 26, 2016
http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2016/05/26/2016052601352.html

4)The Kyunghyang Shinmun,May 31, 2016
http://english.khan.co.kr/khan_art_list.html?code=790000

5)The Korea Times, February 2, 2015.
http://www.koreatimesus.com/un-secretary-general-ban-ki-moon-testing-water-for-s-korean-presidency/

6)”Ban Ki-moon seems ready to run in 2017”, Korea Joongang Daily, May 27, 2016

7)”Ban has hinted at candidacy, but actually running is another question”, Hankyoreh, May 31, 2016”