President Moon: Will He Affect South Korean Views On North Korea?

On May 9th, Moon Jae-in is voted as the 12th President of South Korea. He gained 41.1% of the votes, significantly more than 24.0% of the votes secured by the runner-up candidate Hong Jun-pyo. A record number of 15 candidates ran for the presidency out of which two withdrew before the election day. The voter turnout (77.2%) was also the highest in 20 years.

Moon’s success marks the conclusion of a hasty presidential election after the impeachment of the previous president. Park Geun-hye, the first female president and the first president to be impeached in South Korean history, was removed from office on March 10th, 2016, to ue various accounts of corruption and political failings. According to South Korean laws, the next presidential elections needed to be held within 60 days.

The current South Korean president assumes office with quite dissimilar views from his conservative predecessor. Liam McCarthy-Cotter, a senior lecturer in East Asian politics at Nottingham Trent University, said that South Korea needs “to re-establish its strength both domestically and in the face of increasingly hostile posturing from North Korea” and that “Moon is arguing for a new approach to both foreign and domestic policy.”

Moon’s views on a relationship with North Korea changes the political landscape in Asia. He advocates a more conciliatory approach, expressing that Kim Jong-un should be recognized as “our dialogue partner” and that sanctions must be used to “bring Korea back to the negotiating table.” This is an approach favoured by China and opposed by the United States. Furthermore, Moon disagrees with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an American missile defense system, which was deployed in response to increasing North Korean missile tests. China had strongly opposed its deployment, imposing retaliatory economic measures on South Korea. In short, South Korea may start advocating for measures that completely opposes the increase in pressure on Pyongyang that the Trump administration has been advocating for. It would be a great setback for the United States if South Korea, one of its closest allies in proximity to North Korea, does decide to take a conciliatory approach. Even though Moon has said that South Korea should “learn to say no” to the United States, he voiced that the changes in the relationship with North Korea will be based on South Korea’s alliance with the United States.

Despite the differences, Mr. Spicer expressed that President Trump’s administration looks forward to working with the new president “to continue to strengthen the alliance.” North Korea, another country greatly affected by the South Korean elections, commented on its newspapers that “the tragic North and South Korean relationship had been brought on by the conservative groups… They revived the period of confrontation and maximized the political and military confrontation.” The commentary also said that “if the conservative clique is to come into power again, the tragedy will be extended.” Lastly, China congratulated Moon and its President Xi Jinping said that he has “always attached great importance to South Korea as well as China-South Korean relations.”

Moon comes into power in the midst of political turmoil and distrust, ending the conservative party’s reign of nearly 10 years. At the same time, he brings a change in policies, especially in regards to relationships with North Korea, which is welcomed by China but not the United States.