Conservative Yoon Suk-yeol’s election victory this week comes at a good time for Biden, who is seeking to rally allies to counter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s assertion of disputed territory and trials by North Korea of longer-range missiles and nuclear weapons. Incumbent President Moon Jae-in’s feud with Japan and efforts to woo China have frustrated US efforts to assemble a stronger coalition in Asia.
Yoon and his conservative People Power Party have taken a tougher line against Beijing and Pyongyang throughout his campaign. The former top prosecutor and foreign policy novice pledged Thursday to ensure that South Korea is “reborn” as a “pivotal country that contributes to freedom, peace and prosperity.”
To that end, Yoon said he would improve ties with the United States by participating in the new US supply chain initiative and strengthening military and economic cooperation with Washington. In a phone call with Yoon shortly after his victory was confirmed on Thursday, Biden cited the pandemic, supply chains and threats posed by North Korea’s weapons program as potential areas of concern. cooperation.
“The Conservative victory in Seoul is good for the US alliance system – not just for the DPRK, but also for balancing China,” wrote Rory Medcalf, director of the National Security College at the Australian National University. , in an online question from Bloomberg. session. He referred to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The United States was preparing new sanctions against North Korea after determining that Kim Jong Un’s regime had used a pair of recent missile launches to test systems for a new intercontinental ballistic missile project under development. The restrictions would be aimed at further blocking North Korea’s purchase of foreign technology, a senior Biden administration official told reporters, without providing further details.
Moon has largely avoided positions that would antagonize China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner, as part of his longstanding goal of improving relations with North Korea. After taking office, he pressed the Biden administration to back his declaration plan to end the 1950-53 Korean War — a move that could be seen as running counter to longstanding policy. of Washington to agree to a peace accord only after Pyongyang ends its atomic weapons program.
During the campaign, Yoon said he would support a preemptive strike if North Korea posed an immediate threat and called for a new deployment of a US-made missile interceptor system known as THAAD. . China previously banned group tour sales and appearances by Korean celebrities on TV shows in unofficial retaliation for Seoul’s deployment of THAAD.
A test for Yoon will be whether he amplifies joint military exercises with the United States that have drawn heavy criticism from North Korea. The drills have been scaled back under the Trump administration as Moon sought to facilitate talks with Kim.
‘At the same location’
He also faces the task of improving relations with Japan. The two countries have frequently argued over long-standing issues stemming from Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, hampering cooperation with the United States in coordinating policy on North Korea.
Yoon is a political newcomer and not much is known about his foreign policy yet, said Rui Matsukawa, a lawmaker for Japan’s ruling Conservative Party and a former diplomat who spent part of her career in Seoul.
“But at least it’s a change of administration from a leftist government to a conservative government,” she said in an interview. “I have positive expectations, because I think we are all in the same place in our approach to China and North Korea.” Another question is whether Yoon will push for South Korea to join the “Quad” group that includes Australia, Japan, India and the United States, which seeks to counter an increasingly asserted in the Indo-Pacific. The group has been chastised by China as a “clique” that could fuel a new Cold War.
China’s ambassador to Seoul appeared before reporters and delivered a message from President Xi Jinping to Yoon on Friday. Xi in the message said he wants to improve strategic ties with South Korea and maintain stable relations.
Yoon also spoke by phone Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, where they agreed to work closely on regional threats such as those posed by North Korea. Kishida told Yoon that their bilateral relationship is “indispensable for realizing a rules-based international order and ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world,” the Japanese prime minister’s office said.
Biden was the first world leader on Thursday to congratulate Yoon, pledging to cooperate on supply chains and the threats posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
Yoon, who is due to take office on May 10, has distanced himself from some conservatives who want the United States to redeploy American strategic nuclear weapons — or even for South Korea to develop its own.
More than half of South Koreans support the acquisition of nuclear weapons either through local development or through the deployment of US nuclear assets in South Korea, according to a report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last month.
Yoon’s government will participate in multilateral security platforms and seek to play a bigger role in regional security, according to Cha Du-hyeogn, who served as security adviser to conservative former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. .
“South Korea is more likely to conduct its joint military exercises with the United States on a large scale, and also align itself with the position of Biden and other countries on human rights issues,” Cha said.