South Korea’s new leader offers support in case of North Korea’s denuclearization

Seoul, South Korea (AFP) – Yoon Seok-yeol, a conservative political novice, took office as South Korea’s new president Tuesday pledging to pursue a negotiated settlement of North Korea’s threatened nuclear program and offer a “bold plan” to improve Pyongyang’s economy if it gives up its nuclear weapons.

Yoon promised a Tougher stance than North Korea During his election campaign, he avoided harsh words during his opening speech amid growing concerns that North Korea was preparing for its first nuclear bomb test in nearly five years. North Korea rejected similar previous initiatives by some of Yun’s predecessors linking incentives to progress in denuclearization.

“While North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs pose a threat, not only to our security but also to Northeast Asia, the door for dialogue will remain open until we can peacefully resolve this threat,” Yoon told a crowd outside parliament in Seoul.

“If North Korea sincerely embarks on the complete denuclearization process, we are ready to work with the international community to present a bold plan that will significantly boost North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he said.

Yoon also addressed South Korea’s growing economic problems, saying that deteriorating labor markets and a widening gap between the rich and poor are brewing a democratic crisis by fueling “internal discord and strife” and fueling the spread of “anti-intellectualism” as people lose their sense of community. and belonging.

He said it would stimulate economic growth to heal deep political rifts and income equality.

The development of North Korea’s nuclear program presents a troubling security challenge for Yun He won the March 9 elections On a promise to strengthen South Korea’s 70-year military alliance with the United States and build its own missile capacity to neutralize North Korean threats.

In recent months, North Korea has Test launches of a series of nuclear-capable missiles It can target South Korea, Japan and the US mainland. It appears that Pyongyang is trying to destabilize Yun’s government while modernizing its arsenals and pressuring the Biden administration to ease sanctions. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently warned that his nuclear weapons would not be limited to their primary mission of deterring war if his national interests were threatened.

In a political briefing earlier on Tuesday, South Korean military chief Won In-chul told Yoon in a video conference that North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test if Kim decides to do so. Yoon then instructed the military leaders to maintain full readiness, saying that “the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is extremely dangerous.”

Other issues in the difficult mix of foreign policy and domestic challenges facing Yun are the rivalry between the United States and China and the strained relationship with Japan due to history and trade disputes. South Korea is also preparing for repercussions Russia’s war on Ukraine in global energy markets.

Chung Jin-young, a professor at Kyung Hee University, said South Korea must accept that it cannot force North Korea to denuclearize or ease the confrontation between the United States and China. He said South Korea should instead focus on enhancing its defense capability and the US alliance “to make North Korea never dare to think of a nuclear attack on us.” He said South Korea should also prevent relations with Beijing from deteriorating.

Yun did not mention Japan during his speech. During his campaign, Yoon repeatedly accused his liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in of exploiting Japan in domestic politics and stressed Tokyo’s strategic importance. But some experts say Yun may end up in the same politics as Moon, given the deep differences between the two countries over sensitive history issues such as Tokyo’s mobilization of Korean workers and wartime sex slaves.

Some of Yun’s key domestic policies may face a dead end in Parliament, which will remain under the control of liberal lawmakers ahead of the general election in 2024. Yun also has to rebuild South Korea’s pandemic response, which has been shaken by the massive rise in Omicron in recent months.

He was also denied the honeymoon period. Surveys show that less than 60% of respondents expect him to do well in his presidency, an unusually low number compared to his predecessors, who often had around 80%-90% before taking office. His approval rating as president-elect is at 41%, according to a Gallup Korea survey last week that put President Moon’s rating at 45%.

Yun’s low popularity is partly due to the sharp divide between conservatives and liberals, and to divisive politics and ministerial choices. Some experts say Yun has also not shown a clear view of how South Korea can override its foreign policy and domestic challenges.

Yoon won the election by a historically narrow margin after contributing significantly to public frustration with Moon’s setbacks in economic policies, which have been criticized for letting home prices and personal debt out of control and failed to create enough jobs. Yoon focused much of his message on young males who resented the loss of traditional privileges in a highly competitive job market and their lackluster prospects for marriage and parenthood, even though his campaign has been criticized for ignoring the plight of women.

“The challenges that Yun faced at the beginning of his presidency are the toughest and most negative” among South Korea’s elected presidents since the late 1980s, a period seen as the beginning of true democracy in the country after decades of dictatorship, Choi Jin said. Director of the Presidential Leadership Institute in Seoul.

In recent weeks, Yun has called criticism – even from some of his conservative supporters – before He moved his offices from the Blue House to the foot of the mountain Presidential Palace. Yoon said the move to the capital’s center aims to better connect with the public, but critics question why he made it a priority when he has so many other pressing issues to address.

Yoon, 61, was Moon’s attorney general before he resigned and joined the main conservative opposition party last year after an internal dispute with Moon’s political allies.