UN chief Ban Ki Moon hints at possible run for president of South Korea

UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon gestures during a press conference on May 24, 2016 during the World Humanitarian Summit.
UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon gestures during a press conference on May 24, 2016 during the World Humanitarian Summit. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has given a strong indication that he may decide to run for president of South Korea, saying he plans to contemplate his next step once his tenure ends.

"I'm returning back as a Korean on Jan 1 next year," he said on Wednesday (May 25) during a meeting with members of the Kwanhun Club, a Seoul-based association of senior journalists, on the sidelines of the Jeju Forum.

"What I ought to do as a Korean citizen, I will think about that then (when I return) and make a decision and seek advice if necessary."

The remarks came amid rampant speculation over his potential bid for next year's presidential election as the flag bearer of the ruling Saenuri Party.

During the session, Mr Ban mostly reiterated that he hoped to "achieve a good ending" as the UN chief, but appeared to be striking a far more proactive tone. In a rare move, he took time to discuss the domestic political situation.

"The nation is in fact extremely divided. Political leaders must make more efforts to integrate the country. ... Somebody, who is ready to give up everything for national integration, should come forward and declare grand integration," he said.

"When I come back from the UN, I will ponder more about my role as a citizen. But right now, it would be most appropriate for me to successfully take on my current calling and report back to you," he told the attending senior journalists.

Widely popular among the public here, Mr Ban has posted high ratings in polls and never ruled out the possibility of his foray into politics, dodging a direct answer each time.

The former South Korean foreign minister touched down on Jejudo Island on Wednesday afternoon and was slated to deliver a keynote speech at the three-day conference.

Following the press meeting, he joined a welcome dinner hosted by Unification Minister Hong Yong Pyo where some senior Saenuri lawmakers attended, including Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Chung Jin Suk, parliamentary foreign affairs and unification committee chief Rep. Na Kyung Won and pro-President Park Geun Hye figure Rep. Hong Moon Jong.

In his brief congratulatory remarks, Mr Ban expressed his respect for "big and difficult decisions" made over the last few months by Ms Park and her administration on inter-Korean relations, referring to Seoul's pullout from a joint factory park and imposition of standalone sanctions. But he stressed the significance of talks in tackling the situation.

"Heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula make this a sensitive visit for me," he said.

"I'm convinced that a diplomatic solution is the only way to resolve the complex and dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula. At the same time, diplomacy must be firmly based on respect by the DPRK (North Korea) for international law, particularly the decisions of the Security Council."