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South Korea’s President-Elect Pushes a Harder Stance on North Korea

President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea declared Thursday that he will strengthen ties with the United States, develop a strong military, and respond harshly to North Korean provocations, hours after winning the country’s hard-fought election.

Yoon, who will begin a single five-year term in May, declared throughout his campaign that a strengthened partnership with the United States will be at the forefront of his foreign policy. Outgoing liberal President Moon Jae-in has been accused of leaning closer Pyongyang and Beijing and away from Washington. Despite recent bilateral historical differences, he has emphasized the strategic imperative of restoring ties with Tokyo.

According to some analysts, a Yoon government will be able to strengthen ties with Washington and enhance relations with Tokyo, but will be unable to avoid frictions with Pyongyang and Beijing.

“I’ll re-establish the partnership between South Korea and the United States.” “I’ll (make) it a strategic comprehensive partnership while sharing essential ideals like liberal democracy, free markets, and human rights,” Yoon said at a televised press conference.

“I’ll build a robust military capability to totally deter any aggression,” Yoon stated. “I’ll deal forcefully and principledly with North Korea’s unlawful and unjust actions, while I’ll always leave the door open for South-North discussions.”

He chatted with US President Joe Biden on the phone after his electoral victory. Biden congratulated Yoon on his election and reiterated the United States’ commitment to South Korea’s defense, according to a White House statement. The two also agreed to maintain tight collaboration in dealing with the challenges presented by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, according to the statement.

Yoon’s election has elicited no response from North Korea. It has fired a flurry of sophisticated, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in recent weeks, in what many believe is an attempt to update its weapons program and compel the Biden administration to make concessions such as sanctions relief amid stalled dialogue.

North Korea announced this week that it had successfully tested cameras and other components required to operate a spy satellite. On Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was quoted by state media as stating that his country requires surveillance satellites to watch “the assault soldiers of US imperialism and its vassal forces.”

Yoon stated that Seoul and Tokyo should concentrate on developing future-oriented ties. “Finding future pathways that benefit the people of both nations should be the goal of South Korea-Japan ties,” he added.

Although the two nations are significant US allies and are economically and culturally intertwined, their ties deteriorated under Moon’s administration due to disagreements about Japan’s colonialism of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated a willingness to engage with Yoon in order to restore good relations. Nonetheless, he stated that Tokyo will maintain its view that all compensation concerns have been resolved by a bilateral treaty signed in 1965.

Yoon had previously served as Moon’s prosecutor general and stood on the platform of the main opposition People Power Party. After high-profile infighting over his investigations against some of Moon’s associates, he resigned the Moon government and joined the opposition last year.

The election on Wednesday was primarily a two-horse race between Yoon and Lee Jae-myung, a candidate for the liberal ruling party. In one of the most acrimonious political campaigns in recent memory, the two spent months trashing, insulting, and demonizing each other, exacerbating the country’s already serious domestic divisions.

Yoon’s lack of experience in foreign policy and other key state concerns was a point of contention for Lee and his allies.

They said Yoon’s tough position on North Korea would aggravate the North unnecessarily, and that selecting a side between Washington and Beijing would put Seoul’s security at risk. Yoon has accused Moon of being “submissive” to Pyongyang and Beijing at the price of Seoul’s 70-year relationship with the US.

Yoon’s razor-thin victory over Lee was seen as a referendum on the liberal government, whose popularity has waned in recent years as a result of failures to address stark economic inequalities, deteriorating job markets, and soaring house prices, which have painted bleak financial futures for many people in their twenties and thirties.

During the campaign, Yoon centered much of his speech on promises to generate more employment and restore social mobility for young people by establishing a fairer, more competitive environment. He slammed Moon’s government for policy failures and high-profile investment scandals involving Moon’s associates, claiming that they revealed dishonesty and a disrespect for the law.

On the home front, Yoon has pressing challenges like as containing a record-breaking COVID-19 increase, easing expanding economic inequities and soaring housing costs, and healing a society riven by regional animosity, ideology, age, and gender.

During the campaign, Yoon was chastised for inflaming gender tensions by threatening to remove the country’s Gender Equality and Family Ministry, which he said was pushing policies that were unjust to males.

While he appeared to be attempting to win the votes of young men who oppose gender equality policies and the loss of traditional privileges in an increasingly competitive job market, exit polls released after the election showed that his gains in male votes were largely offset by young women who swung toward Lee.

Yoon denied claims that his campaign exacerbated gender tensions during the press conference on Thursday, although he did reiterate his belief that the Korea no longer had structural hurdles to women’s achievement.

“Laws and processes relating to gender problems are very much in place now,” he remarked. “Rather than viewing the issue as one of group equality and fairness, I believe the government should give a greater reaction and protection in individual incidents of injustice.”

Yoon stated that improving the country’s pandemic response would be a top priority for his power transition committee, which will have a dedicated team working on plans to strengthen the country’s medical capabilities as well as more effective financial packages to aid devastated service sector businesses.

Bob Carlson
Bob Carlson
Bob Carlson is a business journalist, with over a decade of experience in the trenches of reporting up-to-date business news for publications all over the world. With a wealth of knowledge at his back, Bob strives to bring the most important insights into the business world for TheOptic daily.
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