Yoon should closely cooperate with Japan, U.S. to enhance deterrence

A conservative administration has been inaugurated in South Korea for the first time in five years. It is hoped that South Korea will strengthen cooperation with Japan and the United States, with which it shares the values of freedom and democracy, and promote coordination for policies to deal with threats from North Korea and China.

In his inauguration speech, President Yoon Suk-yeol stressed that North Korean nuclear issues threaten peace not only on the Korean Peninsula, but also in Asia and in the world. On the other hand, he also indicated a policy to provide economic assistance to North Korea if Pyongyang suspends its nuclear development and turns toward practical denuclearization.

Previous President Moon Jae-in, a leftist leader, pursued a policy of reconciliation that emphasized dialogue and economic cooperation with North Korea, but failed to achieve Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

Nevertheless, in South Korea, voices supporting a reconciliation policy toward North Korea persist, and the conflict between conservatives and leftists continues. Yoon’s approval rating stands at 41%, which is on the low end when compared to past presidents’ first days in office.

In his speech, Yoon refrained from a confrontational attitude toward North Korea and mentioned dialogue and cooperation because he may not want to deepen social division in South Korea.

It will not be easy for Yoon, too, to make North Korea decide to stop its nuclear development. However, compared with the previous administration, which was more considerate of Beijing and Pyongyang, Yoon has already made clear his emphasis on Tokyo and Washington.

In April, Yoon sent a series of delegations consisting of his aides and experts to Japan and the United States to lay the groundwork for his diplomacy. In the personnel affairs of his new administration, he appointed scholars who are well versed in the United States to key posts, including the head of the Office of National Security at the Office of the President, indicating that his administration will strengthen the alliance with Washington.

Recently, North Korea has repeatedly fired ballistic missiles and is reportedly preparing for a nuclear test, so there is no prospect for Pyongyang to accept denuclearization. Yoon’s basic policy of enhancing deterrence through strengthening cooperation with Japan and the United States can be evaluated as a realistic policy.

Yoon has called for the establishment of a preemptive strike capability to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile attacks and the deployment of additional missile defense systems by U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. It is important to hold close consultations with Washington to realize these goals.

South Korea should consider again strengthening joint military exercises with the United States, which have been scaled down under the previous South Korean administration.

Tokyo and Seoul share the view to make efforts to improve bilateral relations and resume their security cooperation, using the new administration in South Korea as an opportunity. The problem is whether they will be able to resolve pending issues concerning so-called former comfort women and wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula, which have become a heavy drag on the two countries in promoting efforts to mend relations.

The Japanese government expects the Yoon administration to swiftly take concrete measures. If there is a positive move toward a solution in South Korea, it is desirable that Japan will respond flexibly and engage in constructive dialogue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 11, 2022)