South Korea inaugurates Yoon Suk-yeol as president

SEOUL — South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, was sworn in in Seoul on Tuesday, using his inaugural address to make pledges to close political and economic divisions at home, fight for international standards and create a to offer an ambitious package of economic incentives for North Korea.

Mr Yoon takes office at a time when the conflict in Ukraine and the democratic setback around the world have become pressing international issues. He also faces an escalating nuclear threat from North Korea and increasing friction between the United States and China, two superpowers with which South Korea’s diplomatic and economic interests are closely intertwined.

Yoon pledged to meet those challenges by championing values ​​such as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberal democracy’.

“We, as citizens of the world, must take a stand against any attempt to deprive our freedom, violate human rights or destroy peace,” he said during his inauguration ceremony on the lawn of the National Assembly.

Yoon brings conservatives back to the center of South Korean diplomacy and signals a shift in Seoul’s policy toward North Korea. His foreign policy team has emphasized enforcement of sanctions against the north, unlike outgoing President Moon Jae-in, who prioritized improving inter-Korean ties.

Under Mr Moon, South Korea had avoided taking sides in the superpower competition between the United States, South Korea’s only military ally, and China, its largest trading partner. But Yoon has vowed to align his country more closely with Washington, while also restoring broken ties with Japan.

On Tuesday, Mr. Yoon said South Korea was ready to “present a bold plan that will greatly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life of its people.” He added that such a move would only be possible “if North Korea really embarks on a process to complete denuclearization.”

“The door to dialogue will remain open so that we can resolve this threat peacefully,” he said.

Mr Yoon, 61, won the March 9 election by a razor-thin margin against his rival, Lee Jae-myung. He faces numerous challenges at home, such as a parliament controlled by the opposition and a society rife with political tribalism. Young voters remain dissatisfied with rising inequality and skyrocketing house prices.

During the campaign, Mr. Yoon accused of giving in to widespread sentiment against China and of an anti-feminist movement led by young South Korean men. He also pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Women, a move that helped him win votes from young men who say the country has been overrun by angry feminists.

His most pressing crisis, however, is North Korea.

Both US and South Korean officials have warned that North Korea could resume nuclear testing this month, likely around the time President Joe Biden meets with Mr. Yoon in Seoul on May 21.

The North has a history of major provocations to challenge a new leader in Seoul. It conducted its third underground nuclear test two weeks before President Park Geun-hye was inaugurated in February 2013. It conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test less than two months after Mr Moon took office in May 2017.

In the weeks leading up to Mr Yoon’s inauguration, North Korea conducted several weapons tests, including the March 24 intercontinental ballistic missile launch, which ended a four-year-old moratorium on ICBM testing.

Over the weekend, Park Jie-won, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, told local media that North Korea was preparing a nuclear test, despite objections from its allies, China and Russia. The planned test was crucial for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, as it would allow the country to test a smaller and lighter warhead that it could then mount on shorter-range missiles aimed at US allies in the region.

“Time is definitely on North Korea’s side,” said Mr. Park. “Nuclear technology will improve, facilities will expand and there will be proliferation. We have to stop this.”

Unlike Mr. Moon and former President Donald J. Trump, who have each had three meetings with Mr. Kim, President Biden has shown little enthusiasm for direct diplomacy with the North Korean dictator. Mr. Yoon has also taken a tougher stance, calling for renewed annual joint military exercises with the United States. During the campaign, Mr. Yoon threatened “pre-emptive strikes” against North Korea if an attack were imminent.

“North Korea will in no way agree to Mr. Yoon’s offer to exchange economic incentives for nuclear weapons,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. Korea. “Under the new administration, we will most likely see North Korea’s nuclear problem deteriorate rapidly.”

The last time conservatives were in power in Seoul — from 2008 to 2017 — they offered to provide North Korea with incentives similar to Mr. Moon on Tuesday. North Korea responded by launching some of its most serious military provocations since the end of the Korean War: Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the sinking of a naval vessel that the South blamed for a North Korean torpedo attack. Korean submarine.

The north also bombed a South Korean island with rockets and artillery shells, killing four people. In response, South Korea closed a joint inter-Korean factory complex and stopped all trade with North Korea.

Following objections from China, South Korean conservatives also embraced stationing the US anti-missile defense system known as Thaad in South Korea in 2017. During his campaign, Mr. Yoon to deploy another Thaad system in South Korea, risking retaliation from Beijing.

“Yoon Suk-yeol performs with the external environment stacked against him,” said Park Won-gon, a political scientist at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “He is dealing with tensions with North Korea. He must convince the Biden administration to shake off its sober stance on North Korea and make it a priority. He needs to do the homework that Moon Jae-in had undone, such as how to position South Korea in the friction between the United States and China.”

In polls by Gallup Korea in recent weeks, about 42 percent of respondents said Mr. Yoon was doing well as president-elect. Its recent predecessors – both conservative and progressive – came to power and received approval ratings of about 70 percent.

Yoon’s first major initiative — his decision to move the presidential office to another government building — had more opponents than supporters. And many of his cabinet appointees have already faced allegations of ethical error. One of them, his choice for education minister, resigned last week.

On Tuesday, Mr Yoon acknowledged “internal strife and discord” in South Korean society but said the solution was “science, technology and innovation”.

“Rapid growth will open up new opportunities,” he said. “It will improve social mobility and thus help us overcome the fundamental obstacles that exacerbate social divide and conflict.”

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