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(2nd LD) Ex-U.N. chief expected to join political party before long

All News 23:15 January 16, 2017

(ATTN: RECASTS lead paras with Ban's remarks on political party, Constitution)

GEOJE/BUSAN, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) -- Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he will soon decide whether to join a political party, as he is apparently seeking to run in South Korea's presidential election this year.

He cited a problem in raising funds as one of the reasons why he is considering becoming a member of an existing party.

Chances appear slim that he will create a political party himself, with the presidential polls just months away.

"In the end, I think I will have to be with a party, whatever it is," he told reporters during a visit to a southeastern province.

Ban said he will offer some more details of his policy vision after Lunar New Year's Day next week.

On the controversial issue of the timing of revising the Constitution, he said it would be difficult before the presidential election, originally set for December. If the Constitutional Court upholds the National Assembly's impeachment against Park, however, the election will be held within 60 days.

Less than a week after his return to South Korea after leading the U.N. for a decade, he has launched a politically tinged tour nationwide.

His schedule this week included visits to South Korea's southern island of Geoje and its largest port city of Busan, which happens to be the birthplace and political hometown of his arch rival Moon Jae-in, a former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.

The political neophyte has yet to officially declare his presidential bid. But he has repeatedly signaled strong presidential ambitions, vowing to work for "a change in politics" -- a message seen as a stinging challenge to establishment politicians.

During his trip to Geoje, Ban met with workers at a shipyard of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering that has been going through a creditors-led intensive restructuring program, and highlighted the possibility of boosting ship exports through diplomacy.

"(The country) can promote exports through summit diplomacy and other diplomatic channels," he told the workers, boasting of the extensive personal network of world leaders that he has built while taking the helm the U.N.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a meeting with workers at a shipyard of Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering on South Korea's southern island of Geoje on Jan. 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

"I will be able do that if I happen to be given the opportunity."

Ban also pointed out a series of the current government's policy mishaps, small or big, saying they must be redressed as the nation seeks to revamp the ailing shipbuilding and shipping industries.

Later in the day, Ban visited the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in Busan and held a town hall meeting with university students.

During a meeting with reporters at the cemetery, Ban commented on a 2015 deal between Seoul and Tokyo over Japan's wartime sexual slavery.

He said if the deal entails an agreement to remove a statue symbolizing Korean victims, it would be "wrong."

"My principle (about the deal) is that it must be about addressing the victims' resentment," he said.

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to the press during his visit to the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in the country's southern port city of Busan on Jan. 16, 2017. (Yonhap)

Japan has demanded the removal of the monument in front of its embassy in central Seoul, saying it was part of the deal. Seoul has maintained it has no authority to move the statue set up by civilians.

On the issue of regaining wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington, Ban said when the security situation improves on the peninsula, Seoul should take steps towards regaining control.

The OPCON transfer, which was previously set for 2015, was deferred amid Pyongyang's provocations. Seoul and Washington have agreed on the "conditions-based" transfer, which observers say could come sometime in the 2020s.

Some observers said that Ban's visits to Geoje and Busan appear to have political undertones at a time when Ban is trailing Moon in various recent opinion polls.

However, Ban's aides cautioned against attaching any serious political meaning to his trip there, saying it was just "part of his onsite tour to check the reality of the economy and meet citizens."

This week, Ban also plans to visit Paengmok Port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, the site near the 2014 ferry disaster; a recently burned traditional market in Daegu, the stronghold for conservatives; and other regions with different political views to highlight his desire for national unity.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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