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Asia's Game of Thrones
Shakeup in South Korea

Another wrench has been thrown into South Korea’s turbulent political scene, in what could be a game-changer for the upcoming election to replace impeached President Park Geun-hye. FT:

Ban Ki-moon, the former UN secretary-general, has announced he will not run for the presidency of South Korea in a surprise move likely to shake up the election race. […]

“I’ve decided to give up on my desire to achieve political change and unite the country,” he told reporters gathered at the country’s National Assembly. […]

Moon Jae-in, a Liberal party candidate and veteran political operative, is the frontrunner to win the anticipated election.

According to a survey conducted by polling group R&Search this week, Mr Moon has a support rate of 35 per cent. Mr Ban’s approval rate stood at 16 per cent, with much of that coming from Koreans aged over 60.

What the horse-race coverage about Ban’s exit misses, however, is the potential strategic implications for the United States. With Moon Jae-in emerging as the clear frontrunner for the presidency, Washington could face an administration in Seoul that is more skeptical about the American approach to China and North Korea. Whereas outgoing President Park and her party were reliable U.S. allies and pushed for the controversial deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, Moon has taken a different line.

While no enemy of Washington, Moon has cast doubt on the efficacy of sanctions against North Korea, questioned the wisdom of the THAAD deployment, and argued that Seoul should pursue a “balanced diplomacy” between Washington and Beijing. These views are not outside the mainstream; many South Koreans resent the perceived U.S. domination of their country and think that THAAD will needlessly antagonize Beijing without meaningfully mitigating the threat from Pyongyang. Given the growing strain between China and South Korea over THAAD, South Koreans may well vote for a course correction that would mend ties with Beijing.

This does not mean that Moon would radically change course or scrap THAAD outright. He has backtracked somewhat on earlier threats to delay the deployment, and taken a less dramatic stance on U.S. relations than other colorful characters vying for the presidency. Still, as the new Trump Administration makes moves to lock in the THAAD deployment, and as General Mattis seeks to reassure South Korea this week on his first trip as Defense Secretary, any potential shift in Seoul’s stance bears watching.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    Unsurprising. I live in Soeul. I predicted this weeks ago on both TAI as well as TNI disqus threads.
    Koreans were/are very scared that Trump might pull the US out (not likely of course), but their fear is real and I hear about it almost daily.
    The likes of Park won soon and Ban ki moon are viewed as too far left, and even too conciliatory towards the Kim regime and the regime in Beijing.
    koreans are also very worried that a Ban administration would open Korea up to the horrors seen across Europe by admitting Syrian, afghani, and Libyan migrants who’ve come all this way for suspicions motives (their words).

  • Dhako

    It’s too early to tell what the final position, Mr Park Won-soon, will be “assuming” in regards to the THAAD deployment. Or what he will do if they are deployed now before he wins the election. Of course, the outgoing government wants to rush things so that at least some batteries are already deployed by the time the new government takes place. Which means, Gen. Mattis, will be putting his “charm-offensive” to a highest degree possible just to reassure the Korean’s government about Mr Trump’s administration. Furthermore, the US-ROK free trade agreement, which has delivered a trade surplus that is favor of ROK to the tunes of 25 billions a year, also has been something that Mr Trump (or people in his circle) were raising. Which means, the South Koreans are not sure where Trump stand on trade, on defense, and most crucially of all, what his agenda vis-a-vis North Korea and towards China is.

    Hence, regardless of how “reassuring” Gen. Mattis may be to South Korean’s political elites, the fact of the matter is that the “Configuration of forces” (to use an old Marxist term) acting on the body-politics of South-Korea, in-terms of economics, in-terms of trade, in-terms of strategical tilt, seems to be “drifting” South-Korea away from her alliance with US. Or at least these “cumulative forces” are forcing on South-Korea a pronounced “vectoral movement” away from the USA and towards China’s strategical orbit, regardless of who wins this upcoming election. Or for that matter even if Gen. Mattis convinces the outgoing government to put up one or two THAAD batteries as a “down-payment” of US’s strategical intent to continue this system on the ground in South-Korea after the new government comes to power. Which then will mean that government will be “honor-bound” to accept what the previous government have enacted lest they want their country to lose face, perceived as unreliable.

    But still, I have to sat, that for what is worth, even if the outgoing government erect one or two THAAD systems on its way out of the political door, the fact of the matter is that this THAAD System is more of a strategical use to America than to South-Korea (when it comes to defending South Korea against North Korea). And that means the next government in South-Korea will open a fresh “negotiation” with the Trump’s administration once it comes to power. Particularly with the hope of understanding what Mr Trump is having in mind in-terms of trade (with his “America First” protectionism), in-terms of his sense of dealing with China.

    And what sort of “unintended danger” South Korea will likely be running in the event of confrontation between China and US, and in-terms of what he is prepare to do about North Korea, as well as most crucially of all whether the South-Korean’s concern about any moves he makes in that direction will allow them to have a decisive impact or whether they will be an after-thought in-terms of what their concern will be, in the event North Korea firing an ICBM and Mr Trump decides to respond.

    All in all, this alliance between South-Korea and America, is really in a rapid decline at worse. Or at best, it will “hinge” (in its totality) as to hard-ball negotiations that will begun in earnest once a new government takes the rein in power in South Korea, after this outgoing government vacates the scene, So, if I were you, chaps, I wouldn’t count my chicken yet, particularly in-terms of how “durable” this relationship really is. And for that matter, the “political acceptance” of this THAAD system in-terms of them remaining on the South Korean’s soil, once this election is out of the way.

    • Psalms564

      Now you tell me who won

      I see them, they run haha

      They don’t wanna see us

      Take money

      Whole Junior M.A.F.I.A. clique dressing up trying to be us

      Take money

      How the f*ck they gonna be the mob when we always on our job? We millionaires

      Killing ain’t fair, but somebody got to do it

      Oh yeah, Mobb Deep: you wanna f*ck with us?

      You little young-ass motherf*ckers

      Don’t one of you n****s got sickle-cell or something?

    • Tom

      Yeah…sorry Dhako, but the ROK isn’t interested in kowtowing to Zhong Guo. You’re no longer the center of the universe–if ever you were. Get over it.

      • ——————————

        They never were….

  • Disappeared4x

    Running for election would not end well for Ban ki-Moon’s legacy. A proxy referendum on the United Nations, it’s complete failure to ‘manage’ North Korea, let alone actually end the Korean War, would make for ‘interesting times’

    PyeongChang2018! Who shall preside over South Korea’s debut on the Olympics stage?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Kowtowing to a belligerent China with appeasement, is a big mistake.

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