South Korea Rejects US Foreign Policy
South Korea has a new president: Moon Jae-in. Moon’s election is a major win for the Korean liberal party, who had been out of power for a decade. While Moon was likely helped by the corruption scandal that brought down former president Park Geun-hye, the darkest shadow had to be the growing tensions between the US and North Korea. From that perspective, Moon’s election is a strong rebuke against the US status quo.
Lost in all the news last week regarding the House’s vote on replacing Obamacare was the near-unanimous vote to increase US sanctions on North Korea. This was simply the latest in a serious of moves by Washington to escalate a showdown with the unpredictable “hermit kingdom.” The Trump administration is also looking for other nations to follow suit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said America’s aim is to “to fully implement the United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding sanctions, because no one has ever fully implemented those.”
While China has taken steps of its own to pressure the North Korean regime, Washington and Beijing differ in their aims. While Tillerson has suggested the US seeks North Korea to abandon its arsenal, a request that would likely require the removal of the Kim regime, China desires de-escalation. Moon has made it clear he favors the latter approach, viewing sanctions as a means “to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.”
Moon and Trump will also have a key disagreement on the THAAD missile-defense system. While the US had the agreement of the prior government to install the weapons system, the program has been highly controversial — even before Trump suggested South Korea may have to pay for it. Not only has China raised concerns about the scope of THAAD’s radar into their own country, but it was so unpopular that it was even opposed by Ahn Cheol-soo, Moon’s conservative opponent. The missile system becoming partially operational sparked protests throughout South Korea from those worried about war with the North. Protest signs throughout the country have carried messages like “Hey, U.S.! Are you friends or occupying troops?”
The concern of South Korea becoming a puppet to Washington was undoubtedly an asset to Moon. While it is easy for Americans to sabre-rattle for war with North Korea from the safety of half the world away, it is South Koreans who are the most in danger. As Moon noted in an interview with Time:
If the U.S. makes a preemptive strike against the North, there is a chance of the North striking back against the South. If that happens, South Korea will suffer, not the U.S. But that will also cause damage to U.S. troops based in South Korea and to many American citizens living in South Korea.
Of course, as South Korea’s new leader, Moon’s influence will extend far beyond tensions with North Korea. In that respect, Moon’s rhetoric would fit right in with the Washington established.
Moon championed an economic platform that called for fiscal stimulus of over $8 billion, wants to create over 800,000 public sector jobs, and seeks to expanded social benefits. Meanwhile he remains conveniently vague about how he plans to pay for it, simply saying he’ll increase taxes on “the rich.” In spite of high unemployment rates among young South Koreans, he’s vowed to raise the nation’s minimum wage.
As Steve Kim, a member of Students for Liberty South Korea, notes:
He is just a typical Keynesian who believes in multiplier effect. Bad for Korea.
As such, while it is clear that Moon Jae-in’s election is a defeat for America, it could end up being one for the South Korean people as well.