Tue, May 16, 2017 - Page 8 News List

No ‘status quo’ in changing world

By Lee Ming 李明

As predicted, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea overwhelmingly defeated his opponents in South Korea’s presidential election on Tuesday last week.

The race was special from the beginning.

It was originally scheduled to take place on Dec. 20, with the president taking office on Feb. 25 next year.

However, the corruption and power-abuse scandal involving former South Korean president Park Geun-hye and her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, led to Park’s impeachment and removal from office earlier this year.

The South Korean constitution mandates that a new president had to be elected within 60 days of the previous president’s removal. Moon was thus elected and took office immediately.

South Korean public opinion has been polarized on relations with North Korea, and Moon now has to bridge the social divide that appeared during the presidential campaign, as well as tell the public that he is not a “pro-North Korea” leader.

Just like former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, Moon is expected to promote dialogue between the two Koreas, re-evaluate relations with the US and move closer to China.

However, these approaches are not fully in line with US interests in Asia.

Washington is concerned that Moon might move closer to North Korea and China, and distance itself from the US. This would be diametrically opposed to South Korea’s policy under former presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park.

The state of mutual trust between Seoul and Washington would affect South Korean security and interactions between the two Koreas.

Moon has repeatedly said that Seoul must be prepared to negotiate with Pyongyang.

A former chief of staff to Roh, Moon has experience dealing with North Korea, and he is confident about it. The concern is that he might be unwilling to listen to other point of view.

As for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, Moon has advocated that it should only have been deployed after the new government took office, but it is now an unavoidable fact.

Moon has demonstrated goodwill toward China to make up for the THAAD deployment, which has made Beijing unhappy.

Besides, he still needs China’s help in solving the North Korean nuclear weapons problem.

US President Donald Trump has also upset South Korea, and being caught between the US and China, the question of how to maintain a dynamic balance between the two great powers is a difficult problem that Moon will have to address.

China’s diplomatic outlook is good, as Moon is expected to move closer to Beijing and the US is also reliant on Chinese goodwill. Trump seems to have softened his approach and has even praised North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

International media outlets have reported that the US has told Pyongyang through Beijing that as long as North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons, anything can be discussed, including a visit by Kim to the US and maybe even the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and North Korea.

Beijing is challenging the US, saying that it wants the Korean Peninsula to be free of “chaos, war and nuclear weapons.”

The Trump administration does not challenge this stance, which should leave room for diplomacy.

If the six-party talks were reconvened, Beijing would remain the host, so it is now biding its time and enjoying its diplomatic advantage.

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