Why President Moon Jae-In's Electoral Success Harms South Korean Interests


Why President Moon Jae-In's Electoral Success Harms South Korean Interests

Will Seoul keep pushing away Japan and moving towards North Korea?

In contrast to this strengthening of pro-China, pro-North Korea policies, there is a growing possibility of Seoul assuming a more hostile attitude toward Japan. First of all, the conflict over historical issues between South Korea and Japan will deepen even more. In a Cabinet meeting held in July 2018 as a follow-up to the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement on attempting to settle the World War II issue of comfort women, the Democratic Party said it would return 1 billion yen in compensation to the Japanese government, which was previously set up as a gender equality fund. Also, many Democratic Party lawmakers who were elected this time have engaged in anti-Japanese activities. Among them, the most symbolic figure is Yoon Mi-hyang. She was the one who called for tough measures such as demanding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe coming to South Korea in person and kneeling down and apologizing. Judging from the fact that she was placed in proportional representation district No. 7, which enhanced her election results and made her seat safer, it can be seen that the current ruling party will continue to consistently pursue hard-line policies toward Japan. In addition to lawmaker Yoon, five lawmakers are members of the public who have been involved in civil affairs related to the legacies of Japanese forced labor or Japanese military sexual slavery. If they take charge of the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee at the National Assembly, friction between Seoul and Tokyo will intensify as they call for tough measures against Japan. And Japan and South Korea’s territorial disputes are expected to intensify in next year, as Japan’s junior high school textbooks are set to include South Korea’s territorial island of Dokdo as a part of Japanese territory next year. As a result, GSOMIA, the South Korean-Japanese military intelligence sharing agreement to help monitor North Korea, is likely to face another crisis. 

Finally, relations with America remain unclear until the U.S. presidential election. South Korea will seek to gain the maximum benefit it can get from delaying the South Korean-U.S. alliance cost negotiations as much as possible until the U.S. presidential election. First of all, as Seoul seeks to link its New Southern and New Northern policies with China’s OBOR initiative, the chances of South Korea participating in the Indo-Pacific, President Donald Trump’s own initiative, have become even less likely. In addition, the U.S. foreign policy, which seeks to keep China in check through triangular cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, is also expected to be more difficult as relations between Seoul and Tokyo sour further. Also, the South Korea-U.S. joint drills are likely to continue to be delayed as South Korea’s pro-North Korea policy takes place and defense cost negotiations are likely to stop at the level of Seoul importing U.S. weapons. As America and South Korea are likely to face off in various aspects, including defense cost negotiations and independent lines against the North, South Korea will take a course toward maximizing profits. This will be done to the extent that Seoul can operate until November, taking advantage of the political turmoil caused by America’s upcoming presidential election.

Sungku Jang is a former Asan Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.