South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol said on Thursday he would cement an alliance with the United States, build a strong military and stand firm against North Korean provocations, hours after winning the country’s hard-fought election. to become its next leader.
Yoon, whose single five-year term is due to begin in May, said during his campaign that he would make a stronger alliance with the United States the center of his foreign policy. He accused incumbent liberal President Moon Jae-in of leaning toward Pyongyang and Beijing and away from Washington. He also stressed the need to recognize the strategic importance of mending ties with Tokyo despite recent historic bilateral disputes.
Some experts say a Yoon government will likely be able to strengthen ties with Washington and improve relations with Tokyo, but can’t really avoid friction with Pyongyang and Beijing.
“I will rebuild the South Korea-US alliance. I will (make it) a comprehensive strategic alliance while sharing key values like liberal democracy, market economy and human rights,” Yoon told a televised press conference.
“I will establish a strong military capability to completely deter any provocation and protect the people’s safety and property, as well as our territory and sovereignty,” Yoon said. “I will firmly address North Korea’s wrongful and unreasonable behavior in a principled manner, although I will always leave the door open for South-North talks.”
After his election victory, he spoke on the phone with US President Joe Biden. According to a White House statement, Biden congratulated Yoon on the election and underscored the United States’ commitment to defending South Korea. The statement said the two also pledged to maintain close coordination to the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea has not commented on Yoon’s election. Over the past few weeks, it has launched a wave of fancy products, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its arsenal of weapons and are pressuring the Biden administration to make concessions like sanctions relief.
Moon, the incumbent South Korean president, has done his utmost to broker denuclearization deals between Pyongyang and Washington and once helped organize a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in 2018. But US-North Korean diplomacy eventually crumbled due to disputes over US sanctions against the North.
On Japan, Yoon said Seoul and Tokyo should focus on building forward-looking ties. The two countries are both key allies of the United States and closely linked economically and culturally, but their relationship soured after the war during Moon’s presidency over disputes over Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. .
“In relations between South Korea and Japan, the focus should be on finding future paths that would benefit the peoples of both countries,” Yoon said. “During this process of forward-looking cooperation, we also need to come together and discuss, find the truths and solve the problems of the past.”
Yoon, who ran on the ticket of the main opposition People Power Party, had previously served as Moon’s attorney general. But he quit the Moon government and joined the opposition last year after high-profile infighting over his investigations into some of Moon’s allies.
Wednesday’s election was largely a two-way showdown between Yoon and ruling Liberal party candidate Lee Jae-myung. The past two months slamming, mocking and demonizing in one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory, deepening the country’s already severe internal division.
Lee and his allies attacked Yoon on his lack of experience in foreign policy and other important state affairs.
They said Yoon’s hardline stance on North Korea would unnecessarily provoke the North, and that choosing a side between Washington and Beijing would pose a greater threat to Seoul’s security. Yoon accused the Moon administration of being “subjugated” to Pyongyang and Beijing at the expense of Seoul’s 70-year-old alliance with Washington.
Yoon’s very slim victory against Lee was partly seen as a referendum on the Liberal government, whose popularity has waned in recent years due to its inability to address glaring economic inequality, deteriorating labor markets and soaring oil prices. real estate that paint a bleak financial future for many people in their 20s and 30s.
During the campaign, Yoon focused much of his message on the wish to create more jobs and restore social mobility by creating a fairer and more competitive environment for young people. He has sharply criticized the Moon government for policy failures and high-profile investment scandals surrounding Moon allies that he says exposed hypocrisy and disregard for the law.
On national agendas, Yoon faces urgent tasks to quell a record outbreak of COVID-19mitigate growing economic inequality and soaring real estate prices and heal a nation deeply divided along regional antagonisms, ideologies, age and gender.
Yoon was criticized during the campaign for stir up gender animosities by promising to abolish the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which he accused of pushing policies unfair to men.
As he reportedly tries to win the votes of young men who speak out against gender equality policies and the loss of traditional privileges in a hyper-competitive job market, exit polls released after Wednesday’s election reported that his gains in male votes were largely overruled by young women. who turned to Lee.
At Thursday’s conference, Yoon dismissed accusations that her campaign had raised gender tensions, but reiterated that the country no longer had structural barriers to women’s success.
“When it comes to gender issues, the laws and systems are pretty much in place now,” he said. “Instead of approaching the issue as one of equality and fairness between groups, I believe the government should provide a stronger response and protection regarding individual cases of injustice.”
Yoon said building a better response to the pandemic would be a priority for his power transition committee, which will have a team dedicated to designing plans to boost the country’s medical capacity and more effective financial packages. to help devastated businesses in the service sector.