Can Moon chart independent diplomatic course for South Korea?

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/10 22:08:39

South Korean Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in, who advocates the Sunshine policy toward North Korea and a favorable relationship with China, was sworn in as president on Wednesday. There have been debates about whether he will bring changes to the geopolitical rivalries in Northeast Asia. Moon said that he is open to visiting his northern neighbor under the "right conditions." This is the long-awaited olive branch extended to Pyongyang by Seoul.

During the administration of Lee Myung-bak and the latter stages of the Park Geun-hye administration, conservative thinking dominated South Korea. South Korea lost its clout in Northeast Asia and became a pawn of the US' rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy. Seoul could not voice its opinion over Korean Peninsula affairs.

While being "protected" by the US, South Korea has to serve the US' national interests. As a result, South Korea is bound to lose America's respect. The Trump government wanted Seoul to share the costs of maintaining the US military presence on its soil and also wanted reimbursing for the cost of deploying and maintaining the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system. Such insults stem from South Korea's absolute dependence on Washington.

The Philippines offers a contrasting example. After Rodrigo Duterte became Philippine president, he showed a tough stance by announcing that his country would not serve the US' South China Sea strategy. He placed his country's own interests at the core of Philippine diplomacy, remained bold in mending ties with Beijing and did not bother about the decision in the South China Sea arbitration. In return, economic cooperation between Beijing and Manila restarted and Washington has been left trying to curry favor with the Philippines.

South Korea's overall strength is much more than that of the Philippines. But Seoul plays a humble and submissive role in its relations with Washington. As it stays aloof with China and blindly follows the US in peninsula affairs, South Korea has almost lost its flexibility. Seoul is supposed to be one of the main stakeholders on the peninsula, while Pyongyang only gazes at Washington.

Moon wrote in a book published in January that South Korea should learn to say no to America. Apparently, he is clear about his country's current diplomatic predicament. However, he will face many challenges if he is to alter South Korea's diplomatic path. If North Korea conducts new nuclear and missile tests, his Pyongyang policy will be questioned. In addition, Washington would not like Seoul to play a bridging role between China and the US.

South Korea needs a leadership that will craft wise and plausible diplomacy based on the long-term interests of the country. If Moon's vision proves broad, he will lead South Korea out of the current strategic dilemma and leave a historic legacy.

Posted in: EDITORIAL

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