North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un does not congratulate. At least not everyone. Even a week after conservative former prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol was elected new president of South Korea, nothing was known about a friendly greeting from Pyongyang who arrived in Seoul. Congratulations poured in from all over the world after Yoon’s narrow victory on March 9 against Lee Jae-myung of the still ruling Democratic Party. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a few warm words, despite South Korea participating in international sanctions over the country’s attacks on Ukraine and being on Putin’s list of “unfriendly countries”. North Korea against it? Nothing but complaints so far.
But even if Kim Jong-un had greeted election winner Yoon with utter kindness, it would not change the fact that the new head of government in Seoul is likely to usher in a new phase of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula. Like all South Korean right-wing conservatives, Yoon Suk-yeol is in favor of a clear demarcation from North Korea’s authoritarian regime. That means demonstrative deterrence and no concessions until North Korea has surrendered its nuclear weapons.
Outgoing President Moon Jae-in has pursued very different policies for five years. Moon wanted approximation. He negotiated with Kim Jong-un in 2018 and brought him along with then-US President Donald Trump. Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert from Kookmin University in Seoul, even says of Moon: “He prevented a war that seemed possible.” In early 2018, Trump warned Kim Jong-un that he was sitting on the more powerful red button. The mood was explosive at the time. The mediation of the Moon government eased the situation.
However, only briefly. Negotiations between Kim and Trump failed. Forced to respect UN sanctions, Moon was unable to help North Korea’s ailing economy. When Kim saw no further use of the compound, he went back to upgrading his nuclear arsenal. Moon continued to believe in dialogue. In an interview in early February, he suggested negotiations without preconditions.
Yoon Suk-yeol wants to talk to North Korea – on his terms
But North Korea had just completed one January with seven missile tests – more than ever before in one month. On Monday, South Korean and US secret services reported that North Korea was preparing to test an ICBM. The mood is almost as bad as it was in early 2018, and Lankov says: “Moon has come to seem rather strange and pathetic over the last two years with his constant efforts to improve relations with North Korea without to give North Korea what it really needs. “
So here comes Yoon Suk-yeol. He will also talk to North Korea. But only on his terms. During the election campaign, Yoon Moon called North Korea’s policies “submissive.” He advocated “peace through strength”. He said he wanted an extra battery in the US anti-missile defense system THAAD and in the event of an emergency the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea. And so it is now in the eleven-page paper from his foreign policy team, which was published on Sunday.
The Moon government has always been reluctant to risk angering North Korea or South Korea’s main trading partner, China. Yoon seems to care. His South Korea is said to be a leading force in the implementation of sanctions against North Korea and a reliable partner in the pro-Western network. For example, Yoon aims to formally join the US-India-Japan-Australia Four-Country Security Forum (QUAD). And the connection to the United States is above all for him. Meeting with Christopher Del Corso, the US interim ambassador to Seoul, he called her South Korea’s “only ally” and declared: “We are nations that have promised each other to defend our security with blood, so our ties must be restored accordingly. “
So it can be complicated to “expand and deepen” relations with China, as Yoon’s security paper also provides. “Wait and see how it stands in reality,” says Christopher Green from Leiden University on the NK News portal.
Andrei Lankov in Seoul, on the other hand, is already confident that North Korea will not become a nuclear atom according to Yoon’s ideas: “Kim Jong-un has seen what happened to countries like Iraq and Libya that either gave up nuclear weapons or gave them up. Ukraine is the latest example. . ” Kim initially sees nuclear weapons as insurance against robbery. Therefore, Lankov believes that limiting damage is more important than unrealistic goals at the moment: “North Korea will not change. Therefore, negotiations on an agreement that would freeze Kim’s nuclear weapons program should start now.” But South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol does not seem to be thinking about such negotiations.