Following a historic impeachment and a rapid election, a new chapter has begun for the South Koreans with Moon Jae-in assuming office as the President of the Republic of Korea. Judging from campaign rhetoric, the Moon administration is the antithesis of the Park administration that was shrouded with scandal and corruption. Not only is there a stark contrast with Park Geun-hye, Moon being a former human rights lawyer advocates policies and mannerisms starkly different from those pursued by the conservative governments that have held power in South Korea for the last few decades.
South Korea is undergoing a turbulent period in its political history, being caught in the crossfire of the conflict between the United States and North Korea. Its geographical location, as always, has led to tensions escalating with the DPRK and an apprehensive alliance with the Americans. Unlike the previous administration, which more often than not mirrored American foreign policy towards North Korea, Moon is a firm believer in dialogue as a means of defusing tensions within the Korean Peninsula. But, before attempting to end an age-old conflict along the 38th parallel, Moon must put to rest any uneasiness in relations between Seoul and Washington.
The underlying cause for the stressed relations with the States is not due to any direct conflict in policy or errors in diplomacy. In line with a great deal of problems, it was brought about due to a domino effect created by the American deployment of an anti-ballistic system (THAAD) in South Korea. This attempt at hardball by the American drew fierce criticism from both North Korea and the People’s Republic of China, not to mention the large number of protests by the country’s liberals. Only multiplying the opposition towards this system, the Chinese have supposedly implemented a boycott of all Korean brands, hampering an already weak Korean economy.
Throughout his political career and his victory speech, Moon constantly stresses upon the importance of furthering bilateral relations between countries, highlighting the United States as Korea’s closest ally. Trump’s recent press release, or was it a tweet, highlighted his eagerness to meet ‘smart cookie’ Kim Jong Un. This seemingly whimsical desire might serve as the bedrock for defusing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and mending Sino–American relations.
However, ever since the Truman administration, the American people and government have had little interest in negotiating with any government that is not a democracy. The responsibility rests upon Moon Jae-in to rope in President Trump to the negotiating table and act as a mediator in the conference. If the Koreans were feeling ambitious, they could also endeavor to organize a four-power conference between the United States, North Korea, South Korea and the People’s Republic to put to bed any apprehensions that these countries might have.
Since it has been quite clear ever since the Bush administration that no amount of pressure will cause North Korea to bend over and pursue nuclear disarmament, bilateral dialogue remains the only feasible solution. Therefore, it is crucial for Moon and Trump to strike up a positive rapport in order to help the world power through any challenges posed by the ‘Democratic’ People’s Republic of Korea.