President Moon Jae-in and President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol held their first meeting Monday, following weeks of tension and a last-minute cancellation of a previously arranged meeting.
Monday’s meeting was their first in 21 months since Yoon visited Cheong Wa Dae to attend the Anti-Corruption Policy Council in 2020, when he was prosecutor general. The former top prosecutor, who was handpicked by Moon for the post, has been at odds with the president after conducting an investigation into former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, Moon’s close aide.
As public concern grew over the escalating tensions between Yoon and Moon and Yoon’s poll numbers kept sliding, the two sides agreed to meet at last and show they were ready to cooperate.
Yoon arrived at Cheong Wa Dae at 5:59 p.m. and Moon greeted him outside as a courtesy. They moved to Sangchunjae, where state guests are received and unofficial meetings, for dinner.
Presidential Chief of Staff Yoo Young-min and Yoon’s Chief of Staff Jang Je-won also attended the meeting.
The two sides said they planned to have a “candid” conversation without an agenda, but multiple topics were expected to be on the table.
A 50 trillion won ($40 billion) supplementary budget for tackling COVID-19, one of Yoon’s key pledges, a pardon for former President Lee Myung-bak and the reserve fund to relocate the presidential office to Yongsan were expected to be discussed.
Yoon’s continued fall in approval ratings may have affected the decision to meet with Moon amid ongoing strife.
The poll results on Monday showed that the negative outlook for Yoon’s government performance outpaced the positive outlook in a week.
In the survey by polling agency Realmeter of 2,512 people aged 18 or older nationwide from March 21-25 at the request of Mediaherald, 46 percent of respondents said Yoon would “do well” and 49.6 percent of them said he would “do poorly.”
In the second week of March, a poll by the same company found 52.7 percent of people thought he would do well, but this fell to 49.2 percent in the third week of March.
At the same time 41.2 percent said in the second week of March that Yoon would do poorly, rising to 45.6 percent the following week.
Previous presidents’ approval figures tended to be in the high 70 to 80 percent range during the period between the election win and inauguration.
Yoon’s push to relocate the presidential office and repeated conflicts with the Moon Jae-in administration seem to have negatively affected public opinion.
Following the election, Yoon has been at odds with Moon’s administration over multiple issues, including the relocation of Cheong Wa Dae to the Defense Ministry building and the appointment of high-ranking public officials.
A week after the election, he announced he would move Cheong Wa Dae to Yongsan-gu by May 10, saying the president’s intention is more important than public polls and having public spats with Moon’s administration, which worried about a “security vacuum.” Yoon’s side also ran up against opposition from Moon over the appointment of high-ranking officials, including the Bank of Korea governor, resulting in the unprecedented cancelation of the first meeting between the president and president-elect.
When asked about the unusually low ratings of President-elect Yoon, who has not even begun his term, Yoon’s spokesperson Kim Eun-hye said Monday that they would keep the ratings in mind and “serve the people with a more humble and lower attitude.”
The same poll showed that President Moon’s approval rating was 46.7 percent, up 4 percentage points compared to the previous survey. The negative evaluation fell 3.5 percentage points to 50.7 percent.
The Democratic Party’s approval rating was the highest at 42.7 percent, up 1.4 percentage points from the previous survey. The People Power Party’s rating fell 0.7 percentage point to 40 percent.