Why Korea’s Far Right Misunderstood the President’s Recent Time Magazine Article


If Korea’s right wing wants a quick summary on why they misinterpreted the latest article on President Moon’s North Korea policy, without having to struggle with their Korean-English dictionaries, just take a look at the first and last sentences. 

The far right in Korea hAS VINDICTIVELY MISTRANSLATED THE WORD ‘DELUSIONAL’ (망상) TO CLAIM Time Magazine’s Charlie Campbell is CALLING President Moon Jae-in A paranoid psychoTIC.

First Sentence: “Moon Jae-in can still hear the roar today. South Korea’s President had been seated next to Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on Sept. 19, 2018, for the close of the Mass Games when North Korea’s leader beckoned him up to the dais.”

Last Sentence: “That might, after all, be Moon’s true legacy—the grim realization that if he couldn’t fix things, perhaps nobody can.” 

The main point of this article is to record President Moon Jae-in’s legacy as the head of state who has gone the furthest in North Korea with an open door policy. The rest of the details sandwiched in between show the ups and downs when you mix the hard and soft policy outcomes of heads of states of numerous nations over decades. Yet Korea’s far right in 2021, seems to think the writer of this Time Magazine article is criticizing President Moon for every outcome directly connected to Trump to Clinton to even Lee Myung-bak himself. It’s a condemnation of President Moon’s failure as a leader and serves to embarrass South Korea they say! Again with the far-right’s psychological fixation on embarrassment, but that’s another discussion for another day. Granted, some of the diatribe against President Moon is fueled by commentators who need to feed their kids. But most is based on pure misinterpretation and manipulation. They’re scared of the power of a Time Magazine article. The last ones helped impeach President Park and elect President Moon.

Let’s go over some of the specifics.

Quote: Then things fell apart. A follow-up summit in Hanoi in February 2019 ended without progress.

Far Right Misinterpretation: It was Moon’s fault.

Reality: They forgot to read the next sentence. “Key issues papered over by Trump in Singapore, like what vague terms like denuclearization actually meant, returned to the fore. Trump was fixated on the congressional testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, taking place back in Washington.” Trump messed things up.

Quote: The U.S.–South Korea alliance was in trouble too,

Far Right Misinterpretation: Moon was threatening the alliance with the U.S.

Reality: They forgot to finish reading the sentence. “The U.S.–South Korea alliance was in trouble too, with Trump reportedly demanding a fivefold increase on the roughly $1 billion that Seoul contributes annually to hosting 28,500 U.S. troops.” Trump was creating instability.

Quote: In June 2020, North Korea blew up a joint liaison office near the border town of Kaesong. Nine months later, it resumed solid-fuel, short-range missile tests.

Far Right Misinterpretation: See, North Korea was just playing Moon for a fool.

Reality: North Korea was responding to the U.S. The writer in the next sentence says: In January, Kim told the Workers’ Party congress that the U.S. was the “biggest obstacle for our revolution and our biggest enemy … no matter who is in power.” And the following sentence shows Moon as the hero of the moment in trying to save the three-party dialogue with this sentence: Moon traveled to Washington in May to attempt to persuade the new occupant of the White House to re-energize a stalled peace process. 

Quote: In exchange, Biden has secured Moon’s backing for multiple measures against his true focus: China. South Korean companies committed to invest nearly $40 billion in innovative technologies in the U.S.—such as semiconductors, AI, electric-vehicle batteries, 5G and 6G—that are vital for Biden’s ambitious plans to extricate sensitive supply chains from Beijing while building infrastructure to “win the future.”

Far Right Misinterpretation: The U.S. is using South Korea and weakening the country in its ongoing battle with China.

Reality: This was a major victory for South Korean companies. It puts South Korean firms in prime position to replace Chinese firms as the top players in U.S. infrastructure and tech.

Quote: Moon has paid a high price of his own. His political opponents are aghast that a former human-rights lawyer, imprisoned as a student activist for opposing South Korea’s own military dictatorship, could buddy up to a man like Kim.

Far Right Misinterpretation: Moon is crazy.

Reality: The writer says the far right can’t understand how Moon can negotiate and sit in the same room with his enemy.

Quote: Asked about Kim’s character, Moon found him “very honest … very enthusiastic [and] one with strong determination” who has “a good idea of what is going on around the world.” But lest we forget, this is the same man who murdered his uncle and half brother in cold blood and, according to a landmark 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry, presides over “crimes against humanity” including extermination, torture, rape and causing prolonged starvation.

Far Right Misinterpretation: Moon is crazy to think Kim Jong-un is honest and smart. Moon has no idea that Kim Jong-un is a murderer.

Reality: The writer quoted President Moon’s diplomatic response when a Western journalist asked him bluntly what he thought about Kim’s character. In an environment where you’re trying to make a deal, what else do you say about your enemy? Ask any Gangnam mother what she says about the mother she considers her arch rival and hates the most? Nothing but glowing praise and admiration. You praise your enemies in public as a strategy. Any Korean knows that – whether North Korean or South Korean. The second sentence about Kim’s cold-bloodedness was a message to the Western audience to remind the reader that there is a game of high-stakes diplomacy at play.

Quote: For many North Korea watchers, Moon’s steadfast defense of Kim is verging on delusional.  “There are people in senior positions in the U.S. government who think that what he’s doing is counterproductive and harmful in the long run,” says King. 

Far Right Misinterpretation: President Moon is crazy – South Koreans and Americans think so.

Reality: The writer is referring to the long-standing debate of whether to trust conceding to North Korea with concessions and easing of sanctions in return for denuclearization or maintaining a zero-policy hardline stance. Since we went through hardline eras with Bush/Lee/Park administrations, it looks like we may move back towards multilateral dialogue with Biden. Therefore the writer is introducing this debate again. Is it delusional to trust North Korea or not? It’s not a judgment on the president.

Quote: Moon is so invested in rapprochement and consumed by a waning legacy that he has lost support from those who put him in power in the first place. His domestic approval rating plummeted to just 35% in early May owing to scandals like a corrupt housing scheme—the average price of a modest apartment in Seoul has increased from $590,000 to $1.06 million over his term—while an epidemic of sexual harassment has led to a string of high-profile suicides.

Far Right Misinterpretation: President Moon caused prices to rise and sexual misconduct.

Reality: Global money printing caused asset inflation. Kkondae Korean men on left and right have always sexually abused youth.

The main point of the article: “There’s no real solution to this problem,” says Terry. “It’s been like this for over 30 years.”

In summary, this article was not aimed at a Korean audience to show that President Moon could be ridiculed on an international stage. Rather, it was setting the level of expectations for a global audience should six-way talks with North Korea resume. The author Charlie Campbell, along with Stephen Kim and Sangsuk Sylvia Kang in Seoul, did a wonderful job planting a goalpost of the world’s relations with North Korea with a spotlight on the maximum capacity of President Moon’s open door policy.


  • The Korean Far Right also ignored quotes which were extremely positive of President Moon:
  • “That speech was the first by a South Korean leader in North Korea and the high point of a long, often agonizing process of engagement that Moon had charted since his election in May 2017. Odds were strongly against him at the outset: Moon’s arrival into Seoul’s presidential Blue House was bookmarked by North Korean weapons tests, including three long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and a purported hydrogen bomb, prompting then U.S. President Donald Trump to dispatch a U.S. Navy carrier group and threaten “little rocket man” with “fire and fury” in riposte. There had been no official dialogue between North and South since 2013, and caught between an irascible dictator and a geo-political neophyte, Moon feared the worst: “We were actually on the brink of war.”
  • Moon helped guide the world back from the abyss. Reconciliation kicked off with Kim agreeing to Moon’s invitation to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Soon after, Kim and Moon met at the Korean demilitarized zone that has separated its communist North from its capitalist South since an armistice effectively ended the 1950–53 Korean War. Over an 18-month period, diplomacy ramped up with astonishing speed: Kim held three summits with Moon, five with Chinese President Xi Jinping, one with Russian President Vladimir Putin and three with Trump. Kim even gifted Moon a pair of snow white Pungsan hunting dogs—Gomi and Songgang—to symbolize their flourishing accord.” 

Read the full article here: 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in Makes One Last Attempt to Heal His Homeland



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