The new president of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, took office on the last Dec. Winner of the March 9 elections, conservative Yoon’s government project was the harbinger of a change in the country’s relations with the Korean republic to the north, distancing himself from dialogue and advocating a more combative stance. His inaugural speech, however, showed another possible facet of the new South Korean president.
Briefly recapping the elections and their results, on one side we had Lee Jae-myung, former governor of the country’s most populous province, Gyeonggi, from the ruling Democratic Party. The now former president Moon Jae-in, elected in 2017, could not run for the new term. The Democratic Party is South Korea’s main center-left party and, as such, advocates an approach that dialogues with its northern neighbors.
As we have explained a few times in our space, inter-Korean relations are one of the main political banners in the country and a mark of the cleavage between left and right. The left advocates a more peaceful approach, with eventual mutually agreed integration in the future. The right, on the other hand, defends a posture that prioritizes national security, regardless of the vision of future integration.
When we approached the Korean elections at the beginning of the year, an analogy was made, with all the problems of analogies, that the new president Yoon Seok-youl would be a kind of South Korean “Sergio Moro”. A former Attorney General of the Republic who gained prominence for cases involving corruption and whose image is divided between admirers of his performance in these cases and critics of what would be a politicization of the judiciary.
As part of his campaign, he said he could request an expansion of the US military presence in the country to balance North Korea’s nuclear program, which drew criticism from China. Yoon won with 48.5% of the vote, against Lee’s 47.8%, with 77% of the electorate in attendance. In absolute numbers, the difference was less than 250,000 votes, in the tightest election in South Korean history.
In his inaugural speech, Yoon touched on a variety of topics, including topics that some might find out of place coming from a conservative candidate, such as climate change. She also criticized “anti-intellectualism” as a phenomenon responsible for political and social erosion, as something that “weakens democracy”, defending what she called “rationality”.
It is interesting to note that, at all times, as is tradition, the president speaks of the Korean people and of Korea, without the geographical designator “South”. In addition to the fact that each of the Korean republics sees itself as the only legitimate representative, there is the fact that, for Koreans, although there are these two republics, there is only one Korean nation, one people.
On the other hand, Yoon’s defense of “rationality” was also seen as a criticism of what is commonly called “cancel culture”. Yoon defended several anti-feminist banners in her campaign, on topics still sensitive in society, such as women’s work and that feminism caused the low Korean birthrate. She also promised to close the Gender and Family Equality ministry. For these statements, he received much electoral support from the idaenamsomething like the Korean equivalent of incel, the “involuntary celibates”.
Yoon defended political and economic freedom, which would be the foundations of prosperity, and stated that his government will be a “defender of freedom”. She added that “freedom follows the rules”, perhaps a criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He also stated that he will be a president not only for Koreans at home, but also for the nearly eight million compatriots living abroad.
After commenting on domestic agenda issues such as inflation, economic growth and technological development, Yoon spoke specifically of the Korean peninsula. Perhaps it was the topic he devoted the most time to in his speech, which lasted just over fifteen minutes. The new South Korean president has made a Donald Trump-style “proposal” for North Korea, with a possible development deal.
Peace and nuclear weapons
“Peace is not simply avoiding war, true peace is allowing freedom and prosperity to flourish. True peace is lasting peace. True peace is sustainable peace.” A reference to the fact that there is no definitive peace agreement for the post-1953 Korean Peninsula.
The relationship with Russian-Japanese relations is due to the fact that Yoon interlinked “peace on the Korean peninsula” with “peace in northeast Asia”, which can be both a reference to the status of Taiwan and also a reference to the conflict. frozen in the Kuril Islands, between Japan and Russia. Yoon also placed the North Korean nuclear program as a security threat.
“While North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs pose a threat not only to our security and that of Northeast Asia, the door for dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat.” In this passage there is an interesting sign that a “door of dialogue” will remain open between the two Korean republics.
Even between the electoral victory and the inauguration, Yoon said that there were no reasons not to meet with Kim Jong-un. In his speech, he said, “If North Korea genuinely adheres to a process for complete denuclearization, we are prepared to work with the international community to come up with an audacious plan that will greatly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for North Korea.” your people. The denuclearization of North Korea will do much to bring about lasting peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.”
It is difficult to evaluate something that is a mere nod, it is not a proposal with substance and concrete points, but it is an interesting offer nonetheless. In Trump fashion, since the former US president, when he first met Kim Jong-un, made a similar offer, that of economic development and investments in exchange for denuclearization. North Korea, however, is unlikely to accept such an agreement.
The North Korean government sees its nuclear weapons as a guarantee of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will only accept to negotiate them in exchange for security guarantees, both political and economic. Yoon knows this, to the point that his first official appointment as president was a security briefing in an underground bunker. Nuclear and security issues will certainly be on the agenda for the foreseeable future.
Internally, the main challenge for the new president is the fact that, for at least two years, he will not be able to count on the support of the majority of the National Assembly. The 300-seat South Korean legislature is dominated by the PD’s 167 seats, won in the 2020 election. the certainty of a very turbulent start to the government for the next few months.
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