U.N.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in a small folk village in southeastern South Korea on Sunday, a trip widely seen as the start of a presidential campaign ahead of next year's election.
Ban, who is on a six-day visit to his native South Korea, made headlines last week after he told senior reporters on the southern resort island of Jeju that he would contemplate his future as a South Korean citizen once he steps down from his U.N. post at the end of this year. The remarks were interpreted as the strongest indication yet that he could run for South Korea's presidency in the next election slated for December 2017.
Ban's decision to visit Hahoe, which was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2010, fueled speculation over his presidential ambitions because the tranquil village sits in North Gyeongsang Province, a stronghold of the ruling Saenuri Party. The U.N. chief has long been talked about as a strong contender in the conservative ruling camp, even though he served as the foreign minister under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration.
The ruling party has welcomed Ban's apparent interest in the presidency especially as its other potential candidates have lost their competitiveness following the party's crushing defeat in last month's parliamentary elections.
The visit to Hahoe has symbolic meaning as well because it is home to Ryu Seong-ryong, a prime minister who played a key role in fighting off invading Japanese troops at the end of the 16th century. Ryu is also known to have had acute diplomatic skills.
In his meeting with the reporters on Jeju, Ban offered his political vision, saying a country's leaders should work harder for national unity.
Ban is scheduled to have lunch with key local politicians, including the governor of North Gyeongsang and members of the Saenuri Party, and tour the folk village where he will plant a tree before heading to the nearby ancient city of Gyeongju to attend a U.N. conference. (Yonhap)