New Yoon Administration’s Domestic Approaches in Facing North Korea: What Will Change and What Will Remain?
In South Korea’s most recent 2022 Presidential Election that took place on March 9th, 2022, Yoon Seok-Youl, a candidate from Korea’s Conservative Party, won over Lee Jae-Myoung, a candidate representing Korea’s Democratic Party. It was the closest election in South Korea’s election history, with a percentage difference of 0.8%. Regardless of how close the result was, now South Korea plans to have a new administration starting in May, led by President-Elect Yoon, from the conservative point of view.
In the past five years of Moon’s administration, most of South Korea’s policies towards North Korea were geared toward peace. Under Moon’s presidency, several rounds of peace talks with North Korea, most of them under the discussion of declaring the end of the Korean War, were held. These peace talks were also supported by the United States of America, where former President Trump came to South Korea for a tri-peace talk with the hopes of resolving conflicts between the two countries. Yet, even discussing North Korea's denuclearization and the end of war declaration with North Korea has been challenging for South Korea as our country itself suffered from political polarization against each side. Now, without those goals of the Moon Administration guiding the conversation, President-Elect Yoon is predicted to share contradictory views that will lead South Korea’s relationship with North Korea to head elsewhere.
During the election campaign, President-Elect Yoon continuously criticized the Moon Administration for being too lenient in their approach to North Korea. Last November, President-Elect Yoon announced that if he became president, he had no plan to discuss the end of war declaration with North Korea without North Korea’s decision to denuclearize. He emphasized that the Korean War is yet to be over, and making deals without talking about denuclearization on their side is threatening to South Korea’s national security.
President-Elect Yoon emphasized the need for additional placement of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) missile defense systems in major cities such as Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, Incheon. During their presidential campaign, President-Elect Yoon and his cabinet released a statement that said more THAAD placements are critically needed as it does not protect Korea’s capital city, Seoul, from potential missile attacks that could easily arrive from North Korea anytime.
During the Moon Presidency in 2017, the administration already placed several THAADs in Seong-Ju Golf Course. Each machine cost approximately $800 million. China, who disliked South Korea’s military advancement, boycotted South Korea’s products for about a year, causing $7 billion to be lost to Korea's economy.
As there are mixed opinions in placing more THAADs, former commander of the ROK-US Combined Forces, Vincent Brooks, commented that South Korea doesn’t require additional placement of THAADs. The democratic party continues criticizing its policy even after the election, mentioning that it is a waste of taxpayer money.
This is not the first time that the ROK-US Combined Forces have rejected President-Elect Yoon’s domestic policies towards North Korea. Previously when President-Elect Yoon proposed a policy where he planned to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korean military bases to prepare for an emergency, the US military stated that they had no interest nor plans in nuclear weapon sharing with South Korea.
Many international relations and political science scholars of South Korea are collectively concerned about the rising implausible political promises during presidential elections by candidates.
“Nuclear sharing and redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea is just the nationalist argument of some politicians and scholars who have no deep knowledge on the U.S. administration’s will and background on nuclear policies,” Kim Young-jun, a professor at Korea National Defense University, told The Diplomat. “It’s just political rhetoric for getting more votes, as there is no possibility of U.S. government support for this.”
President-Elect Yoon took an action that the conservative party in Korea had never taken before. He promised to continue having a trilateral communication line with the United States and North and South Korea. He also promised President Moon’s administration that they would continuously support North Korean citizens who desperately need humanitarian assistance. This was a step that both parties, Moon and Yoon, took overall to put politics behind regarding human rights for Koreans regardless of their nationality.
While President-Elect Yoon’s policies contradicted the current administration’s point of view towards North Korea, there were some policies that President-Elect Yoon planned to maintain from the Moon Administration, such as humanitarian aid towards North Korea. Every election, the population takes sides to support their candidate. Although by the end of the day, the country would have one administration. Both parties should never forget that it would be their responsibility to collaborate to find agreeing terms to unify the divided population back to one.
Benny Hwang is a senior at Korea International School, Jeju Campus, with a passion for policy and people. He intends to attend university in the United States, where he will major in international relations and public policy.