For South Korea’s New President, Challenges Mount at House and Overseas – The Diplomat

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was sworn in because the president of South Korea earlier this month, ending a management transition tainted by North Korea’s current “binge” of weapons assessments.

The president begins his time period because the least fashionable president within the nation’s brief democratic historical past, clinching victory by lower than 1 share level.

Yoon of the People Power Party is a hardline conservative and is anticipated to hunt nearer ties with the United States and take a extra hawkish method to North Korea and China – all whereas confronting a plethora of home challenges.

He begins his five-year time period as tensions on the Korean Peninsula heighten, and inter-Korean diplomacy stays at an indefinite deadlock. The diplomatic tug-of-war between the United States, South Korea’s protection guarantor, and China, the nation’s largest buying and selling accomplice, is intensifying; each powers are scurrying to win Seoul’s favor.

On the home entrance, housing costs are hovering, beginning charges stand at a report low, and political sectarianism is rife. The nation’s heated “gender wars” rage, and the president’s opposition – the Democratic Party of Korea – controls the nation’s parliament, doubtless leading to legislative “paralysis.”

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On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Seoul, formally starting a three-day go to to South Korea as a part of his first go to to Asia as president. As Biden met together with his South Korean counterpart, U.S. and South Korean officers warned of the “genuine possibility” of a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) take a look at or nuclear take a look at.

The summit was Yoon’s first high-profile look on the world stage, however the Korean individuals don’t share Biden’s heat embrace of their new president. Recent surveys from Gallup Korea present solely 42 p.c of Koreans permitted of Yoon’s efficiency as president-elect. His predecessors entered workplace with approval scores of roughly 70 p.c.

For a well-liked president, confronting an more and more bellicose North Korea, easing the nation’s financial woes, and mending fractious cultural divides would show difficult. For the deeply unpopular Yoon, the obstacles forward might show insuperable.

Here are a few of the points Yoon will doubtless confront in his tenure.

North Korea’s Missile Launching ‘Binge’

The new president’s most urgent coverage problem? South Korea’s quarrelsome northern neighbor.

Former President Moon Jae-in and then-U.S. President Donald Trump prioritized face-to-face diplomacy with North Korean chief Kim Jong Un in a bid to chill tensions and inch towards denuclearization. Yoon, nevertheless, is his predecessor’s ideological antithesis.

As a candidate, he expressed little curiosity in diplomacy, vowed to tighten sanctions till the North “makes active efforts in complete and verifiable denuclearization,” and mentioned South Korea would construct “a powerful military force that can assuredly deter any provocation.”

Yoon struck a extra cautious tone in his inaugural handle, noting the North’s weapons applications “are a threat to national and regional security,” however saying the “door to dialogue will remain open.”

In his speech, Yoon proposed reciprocity to courtroom the so-called hermit kingdom, pledging to “present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy” as long as the nation “genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization.”

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Last Friday, the president provided to ship COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea, a day after the nation acknowledged its first instances of the coronavirus.

Yoon “plans to provide the North Korean people with COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies,” a spokesperson mentioned in a assertion. “Suspected cases are said to be rising explosively in North Korea recently due to a massive COVID-19 outbreak. We will hold discussions with the North Korean side about details.”

Seoul says humanitarian assist and safety deliberations needn’t be mutually unique, however the North Korean chief has but to reply to the provide. Previous gives of humanitarian assist from the Moon administration have been rebuffed, and North Korea had even refused gives of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, North Korea has launched at the very least 15 ballistic missiles this yr alone. In March, the nation deserted a four-year moratorium on ICBM testing after purportedly launching its “Hwasong-17” missile (though that declare was disputed by Seoul and Washington). The North claims the weapon might strike the mainland United States.

At a navy parade final month, Kim promised to ramp up his nation’s weapons improvement program “at the fastest possible speed” to discourage those that “violate” the nation’s “fundamental interests,” considerably escalating inter-Korean tensions.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan final week warned of the “real risk of some kind of provocation [by North Korea] while we’re in the region.” He famous the provocation could possibly be an ICBM or nuclear take a look at however mentioned the White House is “preparing for all contingencies.” His admonishment got here roughly every week after the United States requested an emergency assembly of the United Nations Security Council to debate the North’s elevated weapons testing.

In the close to time period, observers predict regional tensions will enhance as North Korea ramps up strain on the brand new Yoon administration.

The China-U.S. Tug-of-War

In a 2008 report from the RAND Corporation, the suppose tank famous that “by geography alone, sensitivity toward Chinese interests will remain a characteristic of South Korean policies.”

But if earlier South Korean politicians averted rattling Beijing, Yoon’s tough-on-China rhetoric illustrates a broader shift in South Korean politics.

Yoon ostensibly prefers a values-driven overseas coverage with the United States as its democratic north star. Still, China receives over 1 / 4 of South Korea’s profitable exports, making it the South’s largest buying and selling accomplice.

Here, the tug-of-war between South Korea’s quick pursuits and values is on full show. It stays to be seen if the president will “walk the talk” – however most analysts say his feedback endorse the latter.

Yoon has referred to as the United States South Korea’s solely “true core ally,” and his occasion has referred to as insurance policies wanting unconditional assist of the United States “pro-Chinese” and “pro-North Korean.”

He considers the United States a palatable strategic different to China: He expressed assist for the Biden administration’s new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and vowed to finish what he calls the “partial to China” overseas coverage of his predecessor. In his inaugural handle, the president promised to champion values like “freedom” and “liberal democracy,” actually a thinly-veiled poke at Beijing.

Kicking off Biden’s go to, the 2 leaders toured a Samsung semiconductor advanced in Pyeongtaek – a mannequin of the $17 billion Samsung semiconductor plant anticipated to open in Texas in 2024. Yoon mentioned he hoped to deepen a bilateral “economic and security alliance [with the United States] based on cooperation in advanced technology and supply chains.”

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Standing beside his South Korean counterpart, Biden signaled his ambition to realize the long-elusive “pivot to Asia”: “So much of the future of the world is going to be written here, in the Indo-Pacific, over the next several decades,” Biden mentioned. “This is the moment, in my view, to invest in one another to deepen our business ties, to bring our people even closer together.”

In an interview with CNN’s Paula Hancocks, Yoon reiterated his assist for expanded joint navy workouts – beforehand scaled again through the Trump administration – and mentioned it’s in South Korea’s “national interest” to hitch the American-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

These statements from each presidents underscore a warming Washington-Seoul alliance and each international locations’ more and more adverse notion of China.

In a December Hankook Research survey, 56 p.c of South Koreans mentioned China will turn into their nation’s gravest safety menace inside the subsequent 10 years. South Koreans favor the United States over China by a six-to-one margin. The similar survey discovered that extra South Koreans dislike China than Japan – South Korea’s former colonizer.

Even so, some analysts don’t anticipate harmonious relations between South Korea and its ally.

As a candidate, Yoon endorsed the deployment of U.S. missile techniques in South Korea – often known as THAAD – bucking Beijing’s earlier and sure future objections.

But his new administration later dropped that promise, as an alternative choosing a kind of strategic ambiguity. Park Jin, South Korea’s new overseas minister, declined to elaborate on further THAAD deployments throughout his affirmation listening to, noting that “in-depth discussions will be held to decide on what conclusions should be drawn.”

“Yoon Suk-yeol takes office with the external environment stacked against him,” Park Won-gon, a professor of Political Science at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, instructed The New York Times.

“He has to deal with tensions with North Korea. He has to persuade the Biden administration to shake off its lackadaisical stance on North Korea and make it a priority. He has to do the homework Moon Jae-in had left undone, like how to position South Korea in the friction between the United States and China.”

‘Anti-Feminism’ and Domestic Divisions

In a rustic lease by political divisions, one contentious marketing campaign matter appeared to transcend most others: gender inequality and feminism.

As a candidate in 2017, the left-leaning former President Moon vowed to “become a feminist president.” Yoon has taken the alternative stance.

Analysts say Yoon stoked anti-feminist sentiment to courtroom male voters of their 20s and 30s. As a candidate, Yoon blamed the nation’s sagging beginning charge on feminism, promised to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality, and vowed to tighten authorized punishments for false accusations of sexual assault – a transfer some activists say will discourage ladies from reporting sexual abuse.

Yoon’s proposals deepened divisions between self-described “feminists” and “anti-feminists,” intensifying South Korea’s fraught “gender wars.” The anti-feminists argue efforts to alleviate gender inequities quantity to reverse discrimination in opposition to males. They say South Korea’s conscription system – the place all in a position males should serve in a navy suffering from allegations of abuse – undermines their competitiveness in an already tight job market.

Feminists counter that sexism is systemic and sometimes invisible to males. They notice the nation’s comparatively excessive charge of feminine homicide and sexual harassment, low charge of feminine legislators, and the cavernous gender pay hole. Women earn 31.5 p.c lower than males on common – the widest hole amongst industrialized nations, based on the OECD.

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Still, political analysts say South Korea’s “anti-feminists” are a coveted voting bloc for some politicians to win.

A Hankook Ibo analysis survey revealed in May of 2021 reported that 77 p.c of South Korean males of their 20s are “repulsed by feminism.” In a separate survey, solely 38 p.c of males of their 20s referred to as discrimination in opposition to ladies “serious in Korean society.”

Youngmi Kim, a senior lecturer on the University of Edinburgh, instructed CNN that South Korea nonetheless has “a long journey ahead” earlier than lastly overcoming gender-based discrimination.

Earlier this month, Yoon’s transition staff revealed an inventory of 110 coverage proposals that transition committee chair Ahn Cheol-soo mentioned will reposition South Korea “as a nation of people living well together.”

The proposals outlined the president’s imaginative and prescient for South Korea’s authorities. The first 15 proposals intention to “reform” some previous insurance policies and traditions, together with the famed Korean age system.

The president proposed “[normalizing] the real estate market” – the place costs are presently hovering – abandoning the nuclear vitality phase-out coverage, and enhancing monetary stability.

The doc additionally outlined the administration’s goals to revitalize the nation’s battered tourism trade and broader post-COVID-19 economic system.

In a notable omission, the doc didn’t point out Yoon’s marketing campaign pledge to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality. But in a later assertion, the transition staff famous that the president’s promise nonetheless stands.

Also absent: a promise to move the nation’s long-elusive non-discrimination invoice. In South Korea, discrimination on the premise of race, sexual orientation, and gender id is legally permissible. Calls grew louder for South Korea’s meeting to move the invoice earlier than Yoon took workplace, however the legislature did not garner the required majority.

The president did not endorse the stalled invoice throughout his affirmation listening to for prosecutor normal in 2019, however referred to as any type of discrimination unacceptable.

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