South Korea’s executive Blue House confirmed on Monday that President Moon Jae-in said U.S. President Donald Trump “should win the Nobel Peace Prize” for his efforts in Korea.
Moon was holding a meeting of his Cabinet on Monday when the conversation turned to a letter of congratulations written to Moon by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who died in 2009.
During his presidency, Kim was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize to recognize “his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” The crowning achievement of his work with North Korea was a summit meeting in the summer of 2000 with Kim Jong-il, father of current dictator Kim Jong-un.
A pessimist might glumly note that the meeting with Kim Jong-il ultimately went nowhere, relations with North Korea degenerated to the brink of war over the following two decades, and Kim Dae-jung’s successor, Moon Jae-in, is now making headlines by holding his own historic summit with the new North Korean tyrant. Lee Hee-ho is evidently not a pessimist because she sent a message to Moon congratulating him for the diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea and recommending him for the same Nobel prize her late husband received 18 years ago.
Referring to this letter at his meeting on Monday, Moon reportedly said, “It’s President Trump who should receive the Nobel Prize. We only need to take peace.”
Some media outlets have translated Moon’s comments from Korean in slightly different ways, implying that he was dismissing the Nobel Peace Prize as an unimportant concern.
The translation given above was confirmed by NPR, which proceeded to qualify what sounded like a heartfelt recommendation from Moon by speculating that he simply wanted to flatter Trump to keep him on board with a diplomatic process that gives Seoul at least equal weight as Washington. NPR even implied that Moon noticed the crowd at President Trump’s rally in Michigan on Saturday chanting, “Nobel! Nobel! Nobel!” and deduced that recommending Trump for the Nobel would be a good way to keep him on board.
That reading does not square very well with Moon’s conduct in the presidency or the esteem held for the late President Kim Dae-jung and his wife. The New York Times took Moon’s endorsement of Trump for the Nobel as sincere, noting that other prominent voices in South Korea also believe Trump deserves the award – a remarkable sea change of opinion in Seoul from just a few months ago when there were grave doubts in some quarters about Trump’s approach to the North Korean nuclear missile crisis.
Without citing any factual justification, the New York Times suggests the Moon administration’s appreciation for Trump’s leadership is mixed with an appetite for “stoking the ego of the impulsive American leader so that he would continue to support South Korea’s efforts to resolve the North Korean crisis through dialogue.”
The piece also appears to warn the Nobel committee that Trump “has faced one ethical scandal after another at home,” without citing examples or relevance to the Korean crisis.
For his part, President Trump continued his unconventional approach to diplomacy by crowdsourcing the venue for his upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un on Twitter:
Numerous countries are being considered for the MEETING, but would Peace House/Freedom House, on the Border of North & South Korea, be a more Representative, Important and Lasting site than a third party country? Just asking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 30, 2018
Many American reporters reflexively responded to Moon’s endorsement of Trump for the Nobel by assuming he could not possibly be serious, but commentators around the world are beginning to wonder how the committee could bypass Trump if the North Korean peace initiative pans out.
A fallback wishcasting position for liberal journalists is the hope that a joint Nobel Peace Prize might somehow be awarded to Trump, Moon, and Kim, but there is little precedent for giving the Nobel to someone with as bloody a record as Kim. Granting the award to Trump and Moon but leaving Kim out would be awkward, especially with Moon on the record saying Trump deserves it. However, similar events have occurred as recently as 2016, when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos – but not the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – won the peace prize for brokering a deal with the terrorist organization.