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Being Consoler-in-chief

Mar 22,2018
President Moon Jae-in embarks on a seven-day trip to Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from March 22 to 28. His visit to the two countries carries significance as it reflects his initiative to expand South Korea’s economic markets around the world. Vietnam is one of the fast growing economies in Indochina, while the UAE is a hub of the Middle East.

Vietnam is a young, dynamic country with a 100 million population with an average age of just 30. Taking pride in amazing growth as high as 6.8 percent last year — second only to China in the world — Vietnam is our third largest export market following China and the United States. The nation is also a potential security partner as it could help curb China’s expansionism in the region.
Moon visited Vietnam last November to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Da Nang. His visit to Vietnam only four months later shows his determination to improve Seoul’s relations with Hanoi. We welcome this.

The problem is that his trip coincides with the day — March 23 — that commemorates the death of 55 sailors aboard the Cheonan warship eight years ago as a result of a North Korean torpedo attack. Moon cannot attend a ceremony to be held at 10 a.m. on that day at Daejeon National Cemetery due to his overseas trip. Since the date was designated a national commemoration day in 2016, former President Park Geun-hye attended the ceremony in the first year, followed by former Prime Minister Hwang Gyo-ahn in 2017 after Park’s impeachment by the National Assembly. If Moon does not attend this time, relatives of the victims will surely be disappointed.

This year’s ceremony also takes place shortly after Kim Yong-chol — director of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of North Korea and the mastermind of the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later in 2010 — received a courteous welcome from the Moon administration when he visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Olympics last month. If Moon could attend the ceremony and console the unfathomable grief of the relatives of the victims by postponing his overseas trip by a day — or at least seek their understanding through a recorded message — it could help relieve their pain. If rearranging his schedule is difficult, he could meet them and console them with warm words before he begins his trip overseas.


JoongAng Ilbo, March 22, Page 30