World

Moon to visit N. Korea 'if circumstances right'

New South Korean president sworn in

SEOUL South Korea's new president was sworn in yesterday, just a day after a decisive election victory, and he immediately declared his willingness to visit Pyongyang amid tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea.

Left-leaning Moon Jae In, a former human rights lawyer, backs engagement with North Korea in the quest for peace. It is in contrast to the threatening rhetoric from the US administration in recent weeks.

"If needed, I will fly to Washington immediately," Mr Moon said in his inauguration speech after taking the oath of office in front of lawmakers at Seoul's National Assembly building.

"I will also go to Beijing, Tokyo and even Pyongyang in the right circumstances."

Mr Moon will have a difficult diplomatic path to tread in his approach to North Korea, which dreams of a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental US and has vast artillery forces trained on Seoul.

At the same time, South Korea is embroiled in disputes with China over a US missile defence system, and Japan over wartime history.

Mr Moon named former journalist Lee Nak Yon, a four-term lawmaker, as prime minister - a largely coordinating role.

He also appointed Mr Suh Hoon, who played a key role in preparing the inter-Korea summits of 2000 and 2007, the new head of the National Intelligence Service.

At home, Mr Moon begins his term facing multiple challenges, including the aftermath of the huge corruption scandal that saw his conservative predecessor Park Geun Hye impeached. It swept him to power, but leaves the country bitterly divided.

Mr Moon will also have to deal with slowing growth, soaring unemployment and public frustration over widening inequality in wealth and opportunities.

Ahead of the swearing-in, Mr Moon met leading lawmakers of Ms Park's Liberty Korea party - which has accused him of being a Pyongyang sympathiser - to "beg" for their cooperation.

"I will be a president to all people," Mr Moon said in his speech, promising to remain "at eye-level with the people".

After the low-key ceremony, he was driven through the streets of the capital to the Blue House, standing in the back of his limousine and waving to supporters.

Mr Moon took 41.1 per cent of the vote in Tuesday's election, far ahead of Mr Hong Joon Pyo of Liberty Korea on 24 per cent, and centrist Ahn Cheol Soo on 21.4 per cent.

Mr Moon, 64, is bespectacled, reserved and mild-mannered, although some critics have described him as bland, indecisive and uninspiring.

"I liked the no-frills inauguration event and his down-to-earth style," said Seoul office worker Lee Jeong Mi.

"He really looks like a true people's president."

After leaving office, two South Korean presidents have been jailed for corruption.

One is awaiting trial, and another killed himself after being questioned over graft, but Mr Moon promised to stay clean.

"I will take the helm empty-handed and will retire empty-handed," he said. - AFP

South KoreapresidentNorth Korea