By Alex Jensen
SEOUL (AA) – United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon concluded a six-day trip to South Korea and Japan on Monday by accusing the media of distorting his comments, while denying that his homeland visit had anything to do with a mooted presidential bid next year.
The 71-year-old’s popularity was reaffirmed as he placed first in a JoongAng Ilbo newspaper poll assessing potential candidates for the 2017 election over the weekend.
Earlier on in his latest trip to the South, Ban told reporters that he would contemplate his future after concluding his second term as UN secretary-general at the end of December.
“My remarks were somewhat exaggerated and blown up, which baffles me,” Ban said at a press conference on the final day of his visit.
The former South Korean foreign minister insisted that there was no “political move” involved in his travels, which featured some intriguing meetings with government and ruling party officials along with more routine engagements.
For example, Ban held talks with both incumbent Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and one of Hwang’s predecessors Kim Jong-pil -- seen as something of a “kingmaker” in the South’s political arena.
The agenda for Ban’s private meeting with Kim in Seoul on Sunday was largely kept under wraps, with the latter referring to their chat as a “secret talk”.
Having not taken repeated opportunities to rule out a presidential bid, Ban has come under heavy criticism over the last few days from key opposition figures, who have reminded him that convention would steer an outgoing UN chief away from an immediate return to domestic politics.
Local reports have also claimed that Ban’s own family members would rather he focus on his grandchildren than return to South Korean politics.