A few days after Moon was elected, North Korea launched a missile into the sea, posing a severe security threat to the region.
Scholars in Seoul anticipate that with his progressive background, Moon will face a dilemma in making policy on security matters.
“North Korea is our enemy but its people are our brothers and the country will be our partner for reunification in the future,” said Lee Nae-young chief of National Assembly Research Service (NARS).
While the new president wants to engage with Pyongyang, allies in the region and notably the United States want him to pressure North Korea for denuclearisation.
“US-South Korea relations are the linchpin of our security strategy,” Lee said.
While his personal attitude toward the US might be less positive than his predecessor, Moon has no choice but to stand firm with Washington as well as move forward deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system for deterrence. The THAAD system, however, has spurred an economic retaliation from China, which considers it as direct threat to national security.
China’s reaction could force South Korea into the arms of the US and Japan, while “our [South Korea’s] military could go even closer to the US and the missile system would do far more integration with the US”, said Hahm Chaibong, president of the private think-tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “That’s really what China does not want to see, having put efforts to prevent us from doing so,” he said.
“What China has done really undermined its own position in the region and in the relations with South Korea,” Hahm said.
South Korea normalised relations with China in 1992 with the hope that Beijing would help convince North Korea to denuclearise, but China had done very little, he said.
While economic retaliation has had little impact on South Korea’s whole economy, accounting for only 1.7 per cent of total trade, the measures Beijing had taken probably hurt the Chinese economy because of South Korean investment, particularly in supply chain logistics, he said.
Japan is another fundamental dilemma for South Korea, Lee said. While the two countries have historical and territorial disputes, they share the same political values such as democracy and the market economy as well as common security interests, he said.
The new president of South Korea was elected on May 9, and he has not yet assembled his full team in the Blue House, meaning it will take some time before a clear position on the situation in the Korean peninsula could be seen.
A possible approach that the Moon administration could choose would be to pressure and sanction Pyongyang while continuing dialogue with all concerned parties in the region, said Yang Uk, chief researcher at Korea Defence and Security Forum.
“There are international sanctions from the United Nations regarding nuclearisation and the development of weapons,” he said. “The new government should try to act within the regime of international laws. The basic policy is peaceful talks and negotiation.”
As Asean has some connections with North Korea, the group is in a good position to play a role in the situation on the peninsula, Yang said.
“Asean is a good model for the international community and its Asean Regional Forum should be a good platform to talk about North Korea’s nuclear issue,” he said.
The new administration in Seoul should develop strong linkages with Asean, rather than deal with the group only when the situation in the Northeast Asia region saw tensions, said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“We should not come to Asean whenever we have a problem,” he said. “Our governments should engage more with Asean since we are interconnected on the North Korea issue. I hope the new administration will wider its scope with Asean.”
Published : May 19, 2022
Published : May 21, 2017
By : SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE THE NATION