Posts falsely claim South Korean ex-president Moon built statue to show ‘subservience’ to North Korea

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A photo of a tall statue bowing towards North Korea has been widely shared in social media posts that falsely claim it was built by former president Moon Jae-in to show “subservience” to Pyongyang. While the photo does show a statue in South Korea bowing in the direction of its northern neighbour, it was commissioned by a local government tourism office in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province and built in 2016 nearly a year before Moon was elected president. At that time Moon was serving as a local politician in a different region.

“Look at what Moon Jae-in has made,” reads the Korean-language claim shared here on Facebook on December 17 with a photo showing a statue of a man bowing.

The image is labelled “Oknyeo peak at the Imjin River”.

“Treasonous forces set up a statue kowtowing to the North near a [South Korean] military base – [these forces] need to be eliminated immediately,” the post adds.

“This grovelling, 10-meter-high statue at Oknyeo peak bowing towards North Korea must be shattered. Destroy it.”

Screenshot of the misleading claim shared on Facebook, captured January 5, 2023

Identical claims were shared on Facebook here and here, as well as here on Naver Band, a South Korean social media platform.

The statue, called “Greetingman”, is located at Oknyeo Peak in Yeoncheon County in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province, around four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the border with North Korea.

However, it was commissioned by a local government tourism office in South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province and built in 2016 nearly a year before Moon was elected president. At that time Moon was serving as a local politician in a different region.

Statue built in 2016

Yeoncheon County’s official website says the statue was built in 2016, and describes it as “a 10-metre tall sculpture of a giant bowing in the direction of the North” bending forward at “angle of 15 degrees, which symbolises a show of respect toward others while not losing respect for oneself”.

A spokesperson for Yeoncheon County’s tourism office confirmed to AFP that the statue was inaugurated on April 23, 2016, adding that it was “commissioned by the Gyeonggi Tourism Organization,” a government tourism agency.

According to interviews with the statue’s creator, the artist Yoo Young-ho, seen here and here, it is one of two sculptures he had intended to erect on South and North Korean territory, in directions facing each other to show reconciliation between the two countries.

Yoo also appeared in a documentary published by South Korean broadcaster MBC in October 2019, in which he explained that Greetingman symbolises “a desire to start over, beginning with greetings”.

Yeoncheon County’s then-mayor Kim Kwang-cheol, who was also featured in the film, said that it was “highly meaningful that we erected this statue in Yeoncheon County, as it is the closest area to the North and thus can demonstrate to North Korea that we mean peace.”

During Kim’s tenure as mayor, Yeoncheon County announced plans to erect a second Greetingman statue on North Korean territory, though it ultimately did not materialise.

According to reports here and here, Yoo has made other Greetingman statues, including in Uruguay and Mexico. There are two more in South Korea, one in Yanggu County and another on Jeju Island.

Moon in 2016

When the statue was inaugurated in April 2016, South Korea’s government, as well as the local governments of Gyeonggi Province and Yeoncheon County were all headed by members of the Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the country’s current, conservative-leaning ruling People Power Party.

Moon at the time was a Democratic Party lawmaker representing Sasang District in the city of Busan, gearing up for an eventual presidential run in May 2017.

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