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2022-03-09t201257z_1364621158_rc27zs97l1vr_rtrmadp_3_southkorea-election-scaled

Hawkish Yoon wins in Seoul, posing challenges for Taiwan, North Korea policy

The conservative has won the closest presidential race in the country's history — so where does he stand on the contentious issues?

Asia-Pacific

South Korea's People Power Party candidate and former prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl has won the Blue House in the closest presidential race in South Korea's history.

A major foreign policy challenge that awaits Yoon will be to navigate relations with a more assertive yet economically critical China, all while the U.S. increases its pressure against South Korea to support its Indo-Pacific strategy that emphasizes containing rather than cooperating with China.

To maintain regional stability and good relations with both the US and China, Yoon will have to be clear about how far South Korea is willing to go on matters like defending Taiwan in case of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait.

Some in Washington will argue that South Korea should join a coalition against China despite the fact that South Koreans are far from sold on such a containment strategy. According to the 2021 survey by Korea Institute for National Unification, support for a balanced/neutral stance on U.S.-China rivalry outweighed support for strengthening the alliance or strengthening cooperation with China every year from 2016 to October 2021. 

Similarly, a survey conducted by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University from 2018 to 2021 showed stronger preference for maintaining relations with both US and China, compared to strengthening US-ROK alliance or strengthening cooperation with China. So while passions may have run high during the campaign, it would be prudent for the Yoon administration to take a more moderate stance on the “strategic dilemma” presented by the deteriorating U.S.-China relationship. 

A related challenge for the new South Korean president is North Korea. During the campaign, candidate Yoon expressed support for deploying additional anti-ballistic missile defense systems while strengthening deterrence against North Korea. Yet a deterrence-only strategy without meaningful reassurances has failed to stop North Korea’s nuclear armament and increased North Korea’s desire for nuclear weapons as a security guarantee.  

A recent peace game exercise conducted by the Quincy Institute, U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Sejong Institute of South Korea found that a new analytical approach to the North Korea issue that puts equal emphasis on peacebuilding and denuclearization is needed to break the deadlock in talks between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, and other stakeholders in the region. Successful diplomacy and peacebuilding with North Korea will require a shift in the minds of conservatives in South Korea and the United States who tend to view North Korea as a permanent menace rather than as a rational actor. 

From surging Covid-19 cases to the real estate bubble to mending ties with young women voters, President-elect Yoon has a full plate awaiting him. Embarking on a balanced strategy toward the United States, China, and North Korea will ensure that the Yoon administration has the flexibility to enact his campaign pledges. It will also allow him to avoid unnecessary and costly conflicts at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Yoon Suk-Yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, who was elected South Korea’s new president on Thursday, holds bouquets as he is congratulated by party’s members and lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea March 10, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS
Asia-Pacific
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Labour's delusions about UK foreign policy

Europe

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Today, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) became the first U.S. senator ever to be convicted of acting as an unregistered foreign agent. While serving as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez ghost-wrote a letter and approved arms sales on behalf of the Egyptian regime in exchange for bribes, among other crimes on behalf of foreign powers in a sweeping corruption case. An Egyptian businessman even referred to Menendez in a text to a military official as “our man.”

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Europe

As Iran’s president-elect Massoud Pezeshkian is sending messages about his readiness to reengage with the West, the newly elected European Parliament seems to be moving ever further in a hawkish direction. That can be concluded from the appointment of the German Green Party lawmaker Hannah Neumann to chair the EP’s delegation to Iran in the assembly. Save for a major, and unlikely, upset, she’ll be formally endorsed in that position when the body reconvenes after its summer recess.

According to European Parliament rules, the task of inter-parliamentary delegations is to maintain and deepen relations with the parliaments of non-EU countries. Delegations are not the most influential bodies in the EU but they can offer a valuable channel of communication with third countries, particularly in cases when official relations are strained, as is the case with Iran. Or, alternatively, they can become a forum for ventilating grievances against those countries, thus contributing to shaping negative narratives and creating a political climate detrimental to productive diplomacy.

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