Conservative political neophyte Yoon Suk-yol took office as South Korea’s new president on Tuesday, vowing to pursue a negotiated settlement to North Korea’s nuclear program by proposing a “bold plan” to improve Pyongyang’s economy if it renounces nuclear weapons. .
Yoon promised a tougher stance on North Korea during his campaign, but avoided harsh words during his inauguration speech amid growing concerns that North Korea was preparing to test its first nuclear bomb in about five years. North Korea has rejected previous offers by some of Yun’s predecessors, linking the stimulus to its progress on denuclearization.
“While North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a threat not only to our security but also to Northeast Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can resolve this threat peacefully,” Yoon told a rally in Seoul.
“If North Korea really starts the process of denuclearization, we are ready to work with the international community to present a bold plan that will greatly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life of its people,” he said.
A serious security challenge
Yoon also referred to South Korea’s growing economic woes, saying that the collapse of labor markets, the widening gap between rich and poor, was creating a democratic crisis, provoking “internal strife” and “spreading anti-intellectualism” as people lost their sense of community. և Belonging.
He said he would stimulate economic growth to address deep political divisions and income inequality.
North Korea’s advanced nuclear program is a major security challenge for Yoon, who won the March 9 election by pledging to strengthen South Korea’s 70-year-old military alliance and build up its own missile capabilities to counter the North Korean threat.
In recent months, North Korea has tested a number of nuclear-capable missiles that could target South Korea, Japan and the continental United States. Pyongyang appears to be trying to shake up Yun’s government by modernizing its weapons arsenal and putting pressure on the Biden administration to ease sanctions on it. 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 at stake.
Speaking at a policy briefing earlier Tuesday, South Korean military chief Won Ying-chul told Yun in a video conference that North Korea was ready to conduct a nuclear test if Kim decided to do so. Yoon then ordered military commanders to remain vigilant, saying “the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is very difficult.”
Other issues facing Yun’s foreign policy, a tough mix of domestic challenges, are US-China rivalries, strained relations with Japan over history, and trade disputes. South Korea is also preparing for the aftermath of Russia’s war on Ukraine in world energy markets.
Chung Jin Young, a professor at Kyung Hee University, says South Korea must recognize that it can not force North Korea to denuclearize or soften the US-China confrontation. He said South Korea should focus on strengthening its defense capabilities, the US alliance, to “make North Korea never dare to think about a nuclear attack on us.” He said South Korea should also prevent deteriorating relations with Beijing.
Yun did not mention Japan during his speech. During his campaign, Yoon repeatedly accused his liberal counterpart, Moon Jae-in, of exploiting Japan for domestic politics, stressing Tokyo’s strategic importance. But some experts say Yoon may be pursuing the same policy as Moon, given the country’s deep-rooted differences over sensitive history issues, such as the mobilization of Korean sex workers and sex slaves during the Tokyo War.
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