South Korea’s president-elect eyes ‘comprehensive alliance’ with US

As South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol begins his five-year term, he envisions South Korea’s expanded position on the world stage and strengthens Seoul’s role in its long but languid alliance with the United States. as he prepares for his first summit with President Joe Biden.

The new president, who takes office on May 10 after winning a hotly contested election on March 9, will meet Biden on May 21. Yoon, the leader of the world’s 10th largest economy, expects the Seoul summit to be a pivotal moment towards putting allies on a level playing field.

Yoon, 61, plans to revitalize the Seoul-Washington alliance of nearly seven decades after cooperation on global issues waned as current President Moon Jae-in spent much of his term began in 2017 to engage North Korea.

Yoon sat down with VOA’s Korea Service for an exclusive interview in late April to discuss how Seoul-Washington relations could be renewed and expanded so that allies can together tackle some of the toughest issues. in the world, ranging from technology to security.

Yoon said, “South Korea needs to do more than just express that we agree with US policies or support the US, but actually work on global issues with the US.” He went on to say that Seoul should “play a leading role in the areas that require our part.

South Korea’s former attorney general said when President Moon met with Biden in May 2021, they discussed how Seoul could play an active role in cooperating with the United States to maintain an Indo-Pacific. free and open, developing advanced technologies and dealing with climate change.

“When the two met last year, they only discussed the [COVID-19] vaccine, but I think the discussion needs to be broadened to include broadening the scope of cooperation of joint working groups on the Quad, advanced technologies and climate change,” said Yoon, who has never held a previously elected position.

The Biden administration has stressed that semiconductor production is key to staying competitive with China, and when he travels to Seoul for his summit with Yoon, he plans to visit Samsung Electronics’ factory in Pyeongtaek, one hour drive from Seoul. Samsung Electronics was one of the leading global chipmakers invited by the Biden administration to the White House in April 2021.

Climate change has been a top priority for the Biden administration, and South Korea, as the world’s ninth-largest carbon emitter, has been slow to take action to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature limit. set by the Paris Agreement to which Seoul is a party.

Yoon continued, “The concept of security in the ROK-US alliance must now go beyond military security to include security in the areas of the economy, advanced technologies and supply networks as well as the global issues related to climate change and healthcare so that the relationship could be expanded and upgraded to a full alliance level. The Republic of Korea (ROK) is the official name of South Korea.

Snapshots of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol during his interview with VOA’s Dong Hyuk Lee. (Korean VOA Service)

After the summit with Yoon, Biden is expected to meet the leaders of Australia, India and Japan in Tokyo for a summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the so-called Quad, designed to counter China’s aggression in Asia. from the South East.

The Biden administration sees South Korea as an ally who shares the same liberal democratic values ​​with the United States to play a greater role in maintaining a rules-based order in the region against the growing autocratic threat of China for security and political freedom.

Yoon has been South Korea’s 20th president since 1948, when the country was split at the 38th parallel and the Soviet Union created a Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. China, which fought South Korea alongside North Korea, is now Seoul’s biggest trading partner and considered North Korea’s closest ally.

To deal with the growing threat from North Korea, Yoon said “a consistent signal and message” must be sent to Pyongyang which “should not be changed from time to time for convenience.”

North Korea has conducted 15 weapons tests since January, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on March 24 and what it called a new type of tactically-guided weapon on April 17 designed to boost its combat capabilities. so-called nuclear fight against South Korea.

Yoon wants to impress on Pyongyang that Seoul has the deterrence capabilities to defeat any potential aggression across the inter-Korean border.

Yoon said, “To deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the focus has been on extended deterrence.” He continued, “We certainly need to engage in more intimate and in-depth communications with the United States on extended deterrence.”

Extended deterrence has been a primary pillar of security strategy between the United States and South Korea since hostilities in the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953.

As part of extended deterrence, the United States promises to provide a guarantee of security to South Korea by using its military forces, including nuclear forces, to deter attacks on the territories of the ally of East Asia and fight for it when an attack is launched.

When Yoon’s four-member delegation, led by his future foreign minister Park Jin, visited Washington in April, they discussed the deployment of strategic assets such as nuclear submarines and bombers in South Korea.

Park, who is up for confirmation by the National Assembly, served four terms in South Korea’s National Assembly where he served as a member and head of the foreign affairs and unification committee.

“The deployment of strategic assets is an important part of enhancing extended deterrence, and the question naturally came up during the discussions,” Park said after meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington on May 5. april.

To ensure South Korea’s defense against the North, Yoon believes it is crucial that South Korea obtains intelligence-gathering capabilities, but said the South Korean military currently lacks the capabilities. enough to exploit the intelligence assets, which he says is necessary to have command authority in times of war. operation.

Yoon said, “The most important thing in commanding a wartime operation is intelligence, intelligence about an adversary.”

He continued: “We need to ensure a reasonable level of intelligence capabilities to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations that will allow [South Korea] to have command of a joint operation in time of war.

Since the end of the fighting in 1953, an American four-star general who commands American forces in Korea, as well as the United Nations Command and the ROK-US Combined Forces Command, has had wartime command control over the South Korean forces and approximately 28,500 American troops. troops stationed there.

Moon tried to speed up the process of transferring command authority for wartime operations from the United States to South Korea.

South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook said the allies had created the “necessary conditions” for the transfer of the Combined Forces OPCON during a joint press conference with the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, March 18.

But Yoon said, “We lack sufficient preparation to harness intelligence assets”, which he said were essential to commanding a wartime operation.

He added: “The issue of returning operational control in wartime [to South Korea] should depend on which factors are most effective in winning a war.

Regarding expanding diplomatic ties with North Korea, Yoon did not rule out a summit with North Korea.

“There’s no particular reason to avoid a summit,” Yoon said.

However, such a leaders-level meeting would be based on talks producing substantial results on North Korea’s denuclearization, he said.

“If a summit ends with ‘demonstration demonstrations’ without concrete or substantial results on denuclearization or providing economic support to North Korea, it will not help advance inter-Korean relations and denuclearize the North Korea,” Yoon said.

“If North Korea renounces nuclear weapons, accepts nuclear inspections, carries out irreversible denuclearization, then programs that will significantly improve North Korea’s economic situation will be considered and prepared. [to be offered to North Korea],” He continued.

To help the North Korean people, Yoon believes South Korea must work with the international community to find comprehensive responses to human rights abuses around the world.

“Rather than limiting [South Korea’s] response to human rights violations by North Korea, when there is a collective violation of human rights around the world, and when violations are committed by any government authority or political force, then the community international [including South Korea] must cooperate and respond so that the norms-based international order can be maintained,” Yoon said.

Yoon believes that South Korean activists who defend the human rights of North Koreans should be able to continue their activities without interference from Seoul, unless the groups’ efforts endanger South Koreans.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for any government to forcibly regulate the activities of non-governmental human rights organizations toward North Korea, lest those activities offend North Korea,” he said. Yoon.

“The current South Korean government has legally prohibited the dissemination or sending of information to North Korea. I think that is a mistake unless the ban is absolutely necessary to protect the safety of South Koreans living near the North Korean border,” he added.

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