Moon Jae-In, a 64-year-old for mermilitary officer, assumed the office of the President of South Korea on May, 10, 2017. He has generated global interest as his tenure might see de-escalation of tensions between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and its neighbour, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea).
Moon has gone on record stating that he is keen to resolve the security crisis in the Korean Peninsula. Under him, Seoul’s policy towards Pyongyang can be changed extensively. In his inauguration speech, Moon stated, “If it is necessary, I will fly immediately to Washington and also visit Beijing and Tokyo. Under the right conditions, I will also go to Pyongyang. For peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do.” The son of a North Korean refugee, Moon has been criticised by conservatives in his country during his campaign for being soft on North Korea.
Moon had been a pro-democracy student activist before he joined the military. Roh Chang-nam who served with the South Korean President in the army recalled how Moon had been critical of the Korean unification programme and questioned it. According to Roh Chang-nam, “One day, Moon stunned us by saying that North Korea’s leadership should be punished, its citizens should not. He questioned what South Korea would get out of unification if it killed ordinary people. I warned him that such a remark would put us in prison, even though I agreed in my mind. His attitude on the North hasn’t changed at all in 40 years.”
Policy for North Korea
Political commentators feel that Moon would work with a combination of negotiations and economic cooperation alongside military and security measures. In a presidential debate leading to the election, Moon had stated, “I am confident to lead the diplomatic efforts involving multiple parties, which will lead to the complete abandonment of the North Korean nuclear program, and bring the relationship between South and North to peace, economic cooperation and mutual prosperity.”
His foreign policy posturing in regard to Pyongyang has an uncanny resemblance to the “Sunshine Policy” undertaken by South Korean leaders from 1998 to 2008. Under this policy, Seoul engaged Pyongyang, which led to closer relations between the two countries. It also saw two South Korean Presidents visit the North Korean capital. However, the approach failed to stall North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
Moon, it is expected, would depend on economic co-operation to work towards a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. However, it remains to be seen how the hyper-realist regime in North Korea reacts to Moon’s overtures.
North Korea’s nuclear programme
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are at the core of the crisis in the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's ambassador to the United Kingdom has recently stated that Pyongyang is willing to pursue a sixth nuclear weapons test at an undisclosed time in spite of military threats from the U.S.
A large section of political analysts feels that this is actually Pyongyang’s response to threats from the U.S. American President Trump is perceivably upping the ante against this secretive regime. However, North Korea has a strong backing from China. Most of its trade ties are with the Chinese, a traditionally.
The North Korean regime has been open about it nuclear aspirations. The regime has publicly defended its nuclear programme and stood firm even in the face of American and Chinese criticisms. North Korea believes that its formidable nuclear arsenal will be its greatest deterrent against American military strikes. The North Korean leadership has been hawkish enough to iterate a possible nuclear strike back in case of any attack on its territory. The country is believed to possess 10 to 20 nuclear weapons and an arsenal of around 1000 ballistic missiles.The North Korean President has also gone on record stating that they are in the final stages of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States of America.
North Korea’s display of military might and hyper-realist rhetoric has earned it the ire of the American President Donald Trump and relations between the two countries have dipped to a new low.
What does Moon’s policy mean for South Korea – U.S. alliance?
The North Korean regime has been able to maneuvre itself around the American rhetoric. President Trump offered some backhanded praise for the North Korean President Kim Jong-Un, calling him a “pretty smart cookie.” The U.S. is now looking to China and Japan to control North Korea. On the other hand, Kim has accused Trump of risking a third world war over his greed to “control Northeast Asia and the world”.
South Korea has been a trusted American ally. The U.S. could expect the country to toe its foreign policy in regard to Pyongyang. Now South Korea has a President who wishes to have a wor-king relationship with North Korea. Whereas the American govern-ment has gone on record stating that it is considering all options including military to reign in North Korea, the new South Korean President is advocating a policy of cooperation.
America’s THAAD missile defence system in South Korea can be a contentious issue. Moon’s presidency may complicate matters. Moon has been critical of America’s hastily installed missile defence system. Whereas Trump is in favour of isolating North Korea globally, Moon is poised to ensure cooperation until and unless Pyongyang conducts any major act of aggression.
Moon has made it clear that his regime would not support any American strike on North Korea as South Korea might have to face the retaliation.
The US-South Korean alliance has been a long one. It is unlikely that it will take a serious downward turn. However, with Moon taking control in South Korea, the U.S seems to have fewer options on North Korea.