South Korea Scandal
South Korea’s Park Impeached in Parliament

South Korea’s Parliament voted to impeach President Park Geun-hye on Friday, in what appears to be the beginning of the end for the scandal-beset leader. But President Park is not going gently into that good night. The New York Times:

The vote against Ms. Park, the nation’s first female leader, followed weeks of damaging disclosures in a corruption scandal that has all but paralyzed the government and produced the largest street protests in the nation’s history. Her powers are suspended while the Constitutional Court considers whether to remove her from office.

Ms. Park suggested that she intended to fight her impeachment, telling cabinet members hours later that she would “calmly” prepare for the court trial and giving no hint that she would resign. […]

The impeachment motion, accusing Ms. Park of “extensive and serious violations of the Constitution and the law,” will now be taken up by the Constitutional Court, which has six months to decide whether the charges are true and merit her ouster.

South Korea is facing a multipronged crisis as it copes with economic stagnation, worsening social divisions, nuclear saber rattling from North Korea and an increasingly emboldened China. A leadership shakeup could bring about a serious change in how Seoul approaches these issues.

On the security front, for instance, Park has taken a hawkish stance toward Pyongyang that has pleased Washington but rankled China. Her decisions to allow the deployment of U.S.-made THAAD missile defense systems and her pursuit of an intelligence-sharing pact with Japan have particularly provoked Beijing’s ire. And such moves have not been without controversy at home. Moon Jae-In, the leader of South Korea’s Democratic Party and a likely contender in the next presidential race, has criticized the missile deployment as a needlessly provocative move and urged a more balanced approach between Washington and Beijing.

We may soon see what that approach looks like. If the Constitutional Court upholds the impeachment, early elections loom, and Park’s liberal critics could very well take the reins of the next government in Seoul. In that case, the Trump administration will need to grapple with a South Korean government inclined to a more accommodating position toward Beijing: yet another complicating factor in an already volatile Asia.

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