For Moon Jae-in, the day started well.
There were flowers from well-wishers as he left home and bows from office workers as his motorcade wove through downtown Seoul. He stuck his head out the limousine’s sunroof and waved back.
After being elected Tuesday night, he’d normally have weeks to prepare for his new job as president of South Korea. Instead, he was sworn in Wednesday, just a couple of hours after the country’s election commission confirmed his victory.
These are not normal times.
For one thing, the vote was the end of a rushed campaign made necessary by the impeachment and removal of his predecessor, Park Geun-hye. She now sits in a tiny jail cell with a mattress on the floor and waits for trial on charges of bribery and abuse of power.
Then there’s the problem next door, the threat of nuclear war.
‘Rain fire from the sky’
South Koreans are used to bellicose statements from North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, including vows to “rain fire from the sky” and “lay waste to your towers of steel,” even the occasional missile test or underground explosion.
But recently, the threats seem much more plausible. North Korea is getting closer to a working nuclear missile and the United States says it’s considering a pre-emptive military strike. Its warships are standing by.
Moon, on the other hand, is offering sunshine.
Sunshine 2.0, to be exact.
He plans to revive a policy of engagement with North Korea that was last tried in the 2000s. Moon himself organized the last summit between leaders of the two Koreas in 2007, which featured his mentor, Roh Moo-hyun, and Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
South Korea showered the North with economic and humanitarian aid. But the nuclear missile program continued and even made impressive gains.
As Moon was sworn in today, he vowed to try again, as he had promised he would during the campaign.
“I will quickly move to solve the crisis in national security,” he said optimistically. “I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean Peninsula — if needed, I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo.
“If the conditions shape up, I will go to Pyongyang.”
There don’t seem to be any immediate invitations from North Korea.
During the campaign, Moon said he would need assurances Kim is willing to put his weapons program on hold before talks or joint economic projects could begin. So far, there is no sign of that. In fact, Pyongyang has not yet officially reacted to Moon’s election in any way.
For North Korea experts in Seoul, that’s not surprising.
Park Byung Kwang of the…