The war over North Korea

The war over North Korea

South Korea votes today for a new president. The election shows the world that country is a true democracy. After holding their former president accountable and legally impeaching her, the South Koreans are constitutionally electing a new head of state. This is a true achievement for a country that so recently was a military dictatorship, and shows up the northern half of Korea as a sad but violent nation, important only because of its threats to international peace.

Since the removal of ex-president Park Geun-hye and her subsequent indictment on criminal charges, the election campaign has gained clarity. There were five legitimate candidates. Ms Park's conservative Saenuri Party was renamed to the Liberty Korea Party for obvious public-relations reasons. Public opinion and polls have winnowed down the field from five to three with any realistic chance.

As the polls open today, the obvious front-runner and likely next president is Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic Party. He was the runner-up to Ms Park in the 2012 voting. And as happens so often in truly democratic countries, the election of Mr Moon will cause significant change. Most obviously and importantly, Mr Moon intends to bring about change in Seoul's policy towards North Korea and. This, in turn, will mean major changes in Korean policies towards its two most important friends and allies, the US and Japan.

This will be abrupt and jarring. Because South Korea is currently under an acting president, the new head of state will take office immediately after the election. Normally, a democracy sees a transition, from the outgoing government to the new one. But Mr Moon, now seen as the almost certain successor to the Blue House, will take over within days of the election. Policy changes will be sudden and possibly surprising.

They promise to be near-revolutionary. Mr Moon has stated clearly he disagrees with current policy towards North Korea. He intends to restart efforts to talk directly with Kim Jong-un's dictatorship. He wants to reopen the inter-Korean joint industrial complex in North Korea's Kaesong which was closed by Pyongyang's "dear leader". These two steps alone virtually reverse current policies of the Seoul government and its allies.

But there is much more. The likely next president of South Korea -- his words -- "wants to stand up to the United States more". He has criticised the controversial new THAAD anti-missile system and hinted he could ever order it removed. Without directly confronting him, Mr Moon on the campaign stump has criticised US President Donald Trump's emphasis and tactics on North Korea. He has rejected Mr Trump's efforts to bring China into the fold in an effort to de-nuclearise the Korean peninsula.

There's much to consider in Mr Moon's declared policies. But at the same time, it bears remembering that all previous efforts to reach out to the North have come to nothing. Mr Moon's election promises amount to little more than the hopeful-but-failed efforts by the late, liberal ex-president Roh Moo Hyun from 2003-2008.

Mr Moon was Roh's chief aide and adviser. It seems a stretch, however, that steps that so clearly failed to bring North Korea into the world community should simply be retried.

Clearly, no peaceful strategy on North Korea ever has succeeded. Mr Trump's efforts to ally with China seem the best, productive tactic of the moment. One hopes Mr Moon will bring thoughtful strategy to the Blue House, and move carefully in order to avoid upsetting any apple-carts in his troubled region.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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