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Whither Seoul?
No More President Park

The prolonged scandal surrounding South Korea’s beleaguered president has come to a close, with the constitutional court upholding an impeachment measure to formally remove Park Geun-hye from her post. With elections looming in 60 days, though, new leadership could bring a different tack on North Korea. The New York Times looks ahead:

With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Ms. Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade. The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China.

If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing.

Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea had failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

The Times is probably right that whoever is elected as Park’s successor is likely to be less enthusiastic about the THAAD anti-missile deployment and Washington’s hawkish stance on North Korea. Still, it may be too soon to panic that the next South Korean President will fundamentally change course.

For one, the escalating nuclear threat could harden public opinion against Pyongyang, and render talk of a conciliatory policy dead on arrival. And Moon himself, though generally in favor of engagement, is no ideologue and has indicated a willingness to compromise on security issues. Moreover, the Trump administration’s expediting the THAAD deployment is creating facts on the ground that the next President will find hard to undo. Moon has already grumbled that the next government would likely have its hands tied on the issue.

Of course, that hardly means that all is well. South Korea is still deep in crisis mode, the North is growing more assertive, and Park’s removal throws another uncertain variable into a volatile region. There are legitimate fears that Pyongyang could exploit the leadership chaos in the next two months to further test Seoul. For all these reasons, sure-footed U.S. policy toward South Korea has never been more important. During his trip to Seoul next week, Secretary of State Tillerson will need to start building bridges to ensure continuity between Park’s administration and whoever takes her place.

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  • KremlinKryptonite

    Well, I live in Seoul (been here with the Navy for many years now), and so far I have predicted all of this with complete accuracy. Everything from her demise to Ban Ki moon pulling out of the race.
    Everybody that I talk to is hoping Hwang Kyo-ahn tips his hat and enters the race for the conservatives, but I don’t think that will happen.

    That being said, don’t believe nonsense leftist MSM telling you that the Moon Jae-in and the Democratic Unity Party (nice name for a not so nice party) is pulling way ahead. Most certainly not!
    Right now the Chinese regime is waging economic warfare against South Korea trying to help North Korea, and South Koreans see it for what it is.

    They view Moon as far too conciliatory and wanting to give away everything, possibly the kitchen sink, to Kim Jong Un, and the regime in Beijing just to make nice. They are also very concerned about the prospect of a far left party making the same horrible mistakes as those in Europe – inviting hordes of Afghani, Libyan, and Syrian migrants to cause crime and use welfare benefits. Fear of the same things is the reason Ban Ki moon was never likely to win.

    • Suzy Dixon

      Well that is good to hear! As a general rule nowadays, they’ve been wrong so often and are so biased, of course whatever the MSM says we should think the opposite is true

      • KremlinKryptonite

        Absolutely, and that’s not lost on Koreans. Most of them being unable to speak English, they can only rely on translated MSM for western news about Brexit and the US election. They watched as the MSM got both horribly wrong.
        Now they are starting to realize that the MSM didn’t so much get things wrong as they simply botched their own attempt to manipulate the public.

        • Emma P

          Please take your ignorance elsewhere. You must be a troll, the Russian troll, working on behalf of Bannon-Trump Fascists.

          • Josephbleau

            Don’t accuse and call names, tell us the truth that has been hidden from us.

    • Jon Robbins

      So who are you predicting will win the election?
      Not sure what you mean by “economic warfare.” China is putting some sanctions on ROK to show its opposition to the THAAD deployment, but I doubt they will go too far, as they don’t want to poison well given the likelihood that Moon will be the next president. And they’ve got lots at stake in South Korea.
      Looks like the THAAD deployment is being rushed to try and create a fait accompli before a Moon government could impede/postpone the deployment. Should be a very interesting election.

      • KremlinKryptonite

        While I’m currently unsure (maybe ask me in April) likely the conservative or an “independent conservative,” like Hwang.
        Moon is already being savaged on forums, like Cafe Daum, because his conciliatory attitude and the failed policies of the party he used to represent are precisely those that ended in catastrophic failure in 2006 with a nuclear blast.

        And Koreans see the economic warfare by the CPC as very serious. Shutting down 40 department stores and even telling tour agencies to cancel packages over a defensive system is showing them the CPC is no friend. After all, a friend wouldn’t have given the Kim regime missile tech and fissile material.

        • Jon Robbins

          Well, the Chinese could overplay their hand with the store boycotts and such, but I wouldn’t assume it.
          And, in any case, China, like Russia, considers ABM deployments around the periphery of the Eurasian continent as a possible attempt to invalidate their strategic nuclear deterrent capabilities, which they may well be. So it is a real issue for them.

          If China and South Korea could eventually develop friendly relations after the trauma of the Korean War, then there’s no reason to assume that these much less significant ongoing issues will permanently damage them.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            What matters most is how Koreans perceive it because it’s being done to them by the Chinese government, and they aren’t perceiving it well.
            They also know that the CPC is the life support of the regime in Pyongyang, and worse gave them the technology for missiles and nukes in decades past.
            Essentially, they see the CPC as creating a security dilemma for them, and now it’s punishing them for seeking defense.

          • Suzy Dixon

            Well they’re right about that!

          • Jon Robbins

            Maybe, but see the VOA poll on South Korea support for THAAD in my post above. Not sure how things have been tending over the last 60 days.

          • KremlinKryptonite

            It’s been interesting to watch. Support for the US presence has been very high, whereas THAAD (which has been considered for quite some time now) had very mediocre support over a year ago, but it is much higher today no doubt.
            With the 28 missile tests and multiple nuclear tests in the last 18 months, those looking to deploy THAAD could not have asked for a better justification.

  • Dhako

    I hate to be a hard on the folks of the TAI, since, their hope of using the THAAD system to confront China, even, if the nominal excuse was that of confronting China, is coming apart. Hence, it’s natural for them to say, or to look things on the bright side. However, the point that is deeply relevant in here, the South-Korean could see how their economy is tied at the hip with China. Secondly, they could see how America’s bluster against North Korea since Bush Junior administration hasn’t worked at all. And now they can see how the THAAD system has effectively destroyed whatever good will there was between China and South Korea.

    Hence, putting all these together, including their economy that is going nowhere fast, makes the point of strategical change of direction for South Korea. And in that sense, I wouldn’t count the continuation of the THAAD system much longer than the few batteries that was already installed there, which in turn, could be switched off by the new incoming government, if they want to start with a “clean-late” with the Chinese government, once this new left-leaning government takes office in South Korea. But we shall see.

    • Jon Robbins

      “even, if the nominal excuse was that of confronting China,”

      Assume you mean North Korea here.

      Yes, we shall see. Interesting Global Times piece proposing that the best response is an increase/updating of Chinese nuclear arsenal. The piece reasons that sanctions won’t work on the US or Lockheed Martin. It references sanctions on South Korea, but seems to realize that going to far in that direction would be self-defeating and so arrives at the proposal for nuke upgrades.

      Do you really think THAAD has succeeded in “destroying” PRC-ROK good will? That seems exaggerated.

      (And all this as the “SSC-8” issue unfolds at the other end of Eurasia. Same issue, of course.)

      • Dhako

        My bad, yes, I meant that I have corrected it. Also the THAAD system has effectively put the PRC-ROK relationship on a “deep freezer”, so long as Park and her administration were determined to proceed with it. Hence, now that President Park is out of office, then the issue can be “re-visited” afresh with a pragmatic eyes, particularly with the view of shoring up the ROK defenses against North-Korea’s mad-man, while at the same time, ensuring that anything that ROK decides will take into consideration the broader Chinese’s strategic posture.

        And this definitely doesn’t include US running a THAAD system on the Chinese near-territorial range, while nominally, this system was meant to deter the likes of North Korea. So, I suspect, the new government in South Korea will heed more of the Chinese concern where THAAD system is concern than the previous administration was known to do so. But we shall see.

        • Jon Robbins

          The polls in South Korea seem to indicate mounting opposition to THAAD:

          VOA 16 Jan: “Public disapproval for THAAD in South Korea has been mounting. A poll conducted by Realmeter in December found that public opposition to THAAD grew to 51 percent from a 38 percent disapproval rating in July. Support for THAAD declined to 34 percent in December, down from 44 percent in July.”

          Not sure where public opinion is now.

          But North Korea is really causing problems for China with its moves that seem more concerned with generating US-PRC tensions than anything else. Not too surprising that the DPRK would perceive benefits from rising US-China antagonism, but certainly neither China nor South Korea benefits. In some ways–ironically–North Korea is a better “ally” of the US than it is of the PRC.

          The problem for Moon is going to be that he may be facing not a decision on whether to go forward with the deployment, but rather, in the wake of an accelerated deployment prior to the election, a decision on pulling it out. And he may have to argue that during the election.

          How the issue plays during the election will be very interesting.

          • Dhako

            Agree that a tension between ROK-DPRK effectively gives the US’s a strategical “carte-blanche” to act, not only against DPRK. But also put moves along the lines of also strategically complicating the Chinese’s room to maneuver where South-Korea is concern, as well as making sure that the US has the advantage in strategical sphere where China is concern. Since the US could easily make use of their THAAD system at the expense of the Chinese side, in the event of confrontation between the two side.

            Hence, what China wants is to return the ROK-DPRK issue into a “diplomatic table”, so that the “casus belli” in which the US is using in-order to advance her agenda against China, could be disarm. And that couldn’t happen till there is a new government on South Korea, that is ready to talk to their “brethren” in the DPRK, even if these folks in North-Korea have a genuinely mad-man as a head of their country.

            Consequently, once that “diplomatic jaw-jaw” begins between the two sides (i.e., ROK and DPRK) then the issue of THAAD and what excuses the US have had previously to deployed it in the ROK will be less of an “optimum case” in the ears of the political elites of South-Korea.

            And this will mean talks of stopping their deployment or even reversing it can then begin between China and ROK. But not before there is a genuine “rapprochement” between the ROK and DPRK which takes place between them in earnest. And it will be quite naturally a “diplomatic rapprochement” between the “Two Koreans”, which in turn will be shepherded and husbanded by the Chinese leadership, to the exclusion of this buffoon in the white-house, call Mr Trump, and his “stoogely-inclined” sort of a government.

          • Josephbleau

            I propose that we install THAAD, but to appease China we give them authority that if they launch a nuclear tipped missile to S Korea or Japan we agree to not fire upon it.

  • Emma P

    There is no a long term comprehensible American vision in the Korean peninsula. At the moment, two super powers, China and America, are flexing their muscles in the hot region that involves nothing to lose North Korea. If a war breaks out, China will be flooded with North koreans and America will be flooded with the war refugees from South Korea. Meanwhile, there has not been a war in the Korean peninsula for the last 60 years regardless the political party in power in South Korea. Take the China Sea war elsewhere other than bringing it to the Korean peninsula. South Korea already spends billions of dollars in defense. South Korea I am sure gives America a pretty business. It is a juggling work dealing with North Korea, not too soft nor not too hard. it has been working for the last 60 years.

    • Josephbleau

      F-16s’s are a very economical and effective buy for the SKORAF. My Father in law commanded a company in the 38th inf regt 2 inf div in 1951. We will do it again if necessary.

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