South Korean president may follow path of Duterte to maximize benefit

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/17 22:03:39

Editor's Note:

Moon Jae-in was sworn in as the new South Korean president on May 10. He once brought up a policy of "learning to say no to Americans" during his election campaign. Will his administration affect the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system? What kind of US policy will South Korea pursue? Global Times reporter Ma Linna talked with two Chinese scholars on these issues.

Shi Yuanhua, director with the Center for China's Relations with Neighboring Countries, Fudan University

What Moon can do now is to suspend the deployment of THAAD and bring the issue to a parliamentary discussion. However, daunting uncertainty still surrounds the outcome as the multifaceted issue of THAAD is restrained by many factors, especially pressure from the US.

Negotiating with the US also presents obstacles as South Korea cannot bear the consequences of destablizing its relations with the US in light of the US-South Korea military alliance. In addition, if North Korea continues conducting nuclear or missile tests, the South Korean public will become more supportive of the THAAD deployment.

There are two possibilities facing the fate of THAAD. One is the deployment will be terminated, and the other is changing the sophisticated radar system so as not to cover China. The US-South Korea military alliance is the cornerstone of South Korean foreign policy and will not change until a more positive and holistic settlement of North Korea's nuclear crisis emerges. Besides, the US will not abandon its interests in South Korea out of consideration of its own national security interests.

On the whole, South Korea is unsatisfied with the current wartime operational control measures in place. Former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun conducted negotiations with the US and reached an agreement on transferring wartime operational control in 2012. The sinking of the Cheonan and the attack on Yeonpyeong island meant that the transfer was postponed for three years under Lee Myung-bak's administration. Under the pressure of mounting tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Park Geun-hye government indefinitely delayed the wartime operational control transfer. To regain wartime control of South Korea's forces, Moon will need to be flexible and willing to make adjustments.

Wang Weimin, dean of the School of International studies and Public Administration, Shanghai University of Political Science and Law

Moon has raised the issue of the illegal US deployment of THAAD. As widely reported in the media, insidious motives and stories are behind the deployment of THAAD. For example, Choi Soon-sil, scandal-ridden confidant of former president Park Geun-hye, was reported to have engaged in improper relations with US Lockheed Martin Corporation, which is responsible for developing THAAD, and was accused of receiving huge business favor in return. THAAD's deployment did not receive permission from the National Assembly. The procedure to deploy the system is illegal. As seen from his calling for a review of the deployment, Moon has adopted a predictably different attitude on the THAAD issue.

Roh Moo-hyun once brought up that South Korea should have the final say on inter-Korean relations, and there is no need for a US-Japan-South Korea military alliance. He also held that China and the US are both indispensable to resolving the issue of the Korean Peninsula. Consequently he pursued a policy of grabbing a predominant role in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula while utilizing the contradictions between China and the US. Influenced by Roh, Moon will probably pursue a similar policy.

Unlike the conservative forces in South Korea, Moon will not advocate a complete reliance on the US-South Korea alliance. Similar to Roh, he will endeavor to strike a balance between the US and China. Although the US-South Korea alliance is the basis of South Korea's foreign policy, China-South Korea relations are also a pillar of domestic security and economic development of South Korea.

It is clear that Moon will not abandon the prominent status of the US-South Korea alliance, however, he is likely to take advantage of the strategic competition between China and the US to maximize gains. In this sense, he will pursue a similar policy as President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who has deftly navigated between China and US to his nation's benefit.


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