Editorial: Moon should partner with allies in dealing with North
Kim's nuclear provocations deserve a firm response, not a soft touch
Moon Jae-in, former head of the leading opposition Democratic Party of Korea, won a decisive victory in the South Korean presidential election on May 9 following the ouster of impeached President Park Geun-hye. He took office the following day.
The new president is expected to promote markedly different policies than those of his two conservative predecessors, but myriad problems await.
Former President Park's corruption scandal has revealed the people's deep dissatisfaction with society. Koreans feel trapped, held hostage in a sense by their distrust of politics, the ongoing collusion between politicians and corporations and the wealth gap. The new president will have a tough time trying to win them over.
These problems come on top of the country's economic woes. The real economic growth rate in recent years has been in the 2% range, and the most recent data shows that the unemployment rate for young workers has reached 10%. The wage gap between workers at large businesses, such as the family-run chaebol conglomerates, and smaller companies remains wide.
Moon has pledged to create new jobs in the public sector and demonstrated his seriousness about tackling the problem of too-cozy relationships between conglomerates and politicians, whose questionable dealings have made headlines in the past. If, however, Moon's government is going to remain firm in its resolve to go after such big business groups -- the economy's main drivers -- the private sector may be in for a bumpy ride.
PROBLEMS UP NORTH Another major concern about the Moon administration is its diplomatic and security policy; specifically, how it will respond to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
Moon wants to play a leading role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue by promoting North-South dialogue and cooperation. He has criticized the former administration for focusing solely on sanctions and pressuring the North. Now, he seems prepared to do nearly anything to resolve the nuclear impasse, suggesting that he may even meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before visiting Washington.
The new president also hopes to restart the industrial park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. This joint economic project with Pyongyang was shuttered by Park as part of sanctions against the North. Furthermore, Moon has expressed his desire to establish a new Korean Peninsula economic belt.
As for the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, anti-missile defense system recently deployed in South Korea to thwart North Korea's missile development, Moon has argued that the issue should be reviewed and decided by his administration.
Pyongyang's repeated provocations, such as nuclear and missile tests, have prompted the U.S. government to position a carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson in waters near the Korean Peninsula in order to increase military pressure on the North. Additionally, China, a longtime supporter of the reclusive regime, is reported to have suspended coal imports from North Korea. But while the international community is united in pressuring Kim, Moon has chosen a conciliatory policy that obviously runs counter to these efforts.
INTERNATIONAL IMAGE Balancing dialogue with pressure is essential to avoid a military clash. U.S. President Donald Trump's recent hinting at the possibility of a summit with Kim is evidence of this approach. That said, should South Korea appear too conciliatory towards the North, especially in the absence of any clear path to having Pyongyang drop its nuclear ambitions, international efforts to deal with the country could be substantially impaired.
Even after Moon took office and reiterated his preference to negotiate with the North, Kim continued his provocations by launching a ballistic missile. Thus, the most sensible approach for the Moon administration is to partner closely with the U.S. and Japan in squeezing Kim while working alongside other countries such as China and Russia. We hope the new president will share the concerns of the international community over the threat posed by the North, while showing restraint in words and deeds.
Meanwhile, the Moon presidency clouds the waters as regards Japan-South Korea relations. Though signaling his willingness to cooperate with Japan in dealing with the North, Moon has made clear his government's intent to stick to its principles on historical issues between the two countries. In particular, the president said that Seoul should renegotiate the agreement that Park signed with Tokyo in late 2015 to settle the World War II "comfort women" issue.
The two countries declared that a deal had been reached to resolve the issue "finally and irreversibly." Were the agreement to be scrapped, the new president should be advised that mutual trust between Japan and South Korea would be undermined, and the international community would lose confidence in Seoul. We hope the South Korean government will honor the accord and make efforts to remove the statues of comfort women erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and the consulate general in Busan.