The waning years of recently ousted South Korean president Park Geun-hye’s administration saw Seoul’s relationship with Beijing deteriorate as dramatically as did Park’s reputation. As her administration was mired in its corruption scandal, South Korea went ahead with the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, crossing a red line drawn by China and painting a bleak picture for the outlook for the bilateral relationship.
Just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse, in steps South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in.
The Global Times writes this week on the potential that Moon represents for Seoul, from a Chinese perspective. South Korea has long been beholden to US strategic objectives, but Moon may present an opportunity to change this.
“Seoul’s power is much greater than Pyongyang’s, but South Korea’s voice can barely be heard on the problems facing the Korean peninsula”, the editorial points out. “If South Korea listens only to the US, they are destined to be ‘sold out’ to a certain extent.”
The Global Times goes on to compare Moon’s foreign policy options to those of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has recently made a dramatic pivot from the US to closer ties with China.
“South Korea is not the Philippines, and it’s not quite possible that Moon Jae-in will become ‘Korea’s Duterte.’ In fact, South Korea is unique. It needs a pioneering leader to formulate policy from the starting point of the long-term and fundamental interests of the Korean people. This is an historic task for South Korea. If Moon Jae-in can transcend current domestic political mess, and approach this task from a higher vantage point, it would not only allow him to overcome South Korea’s current strategic predicament, but it would surely see him shine in the annals of Korean history.”
It is true that South Korea would not realistically pivot away from the US the way the Philippines has, but a foreign policy more independent from the US would win points for Moon with his own public, and with South Korea’s largest trading partner. Don’t be surprised if a new bromance blooms in Northeast Asia in the coming years.