International Politics for Dummies: What’s Going On In South Korea?
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Politics and Activism

International Politics for Dummies: What’s Going On In South Korea?

South Korea is ridden with political and social unrest, but what is on the horizon?

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International Politics for Dummies: What’s Going On In South Korea?
Kim Hong-Ji

Ever since Donald Trump became President of the United States, it seems as though everything in world politics seriously involves/affects us at home. As an intended International Security major (under the umbrella major of Political Science), I believe that politics is always important, and of course, that we are always affected in some way by the world around us. The U.S. being a hegemonic power, which means it is a dominant power in the international sphere, translates into world affairs affecting the U.S. as much as U.S. domestic affairs affect the world. And that is a lot. This article is meant to break down a headlining topic in international politics in a way that is clear to read, easy to understand, and keeps you well informed. Today, I will be talking about what is going on in South Korea and North Korea, and how China’s reaction impacts the U.S.

On Friday, March 10, 2017, South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye became the country’s first democratic leader to be impeached from office.

Judges sustained the South Korean parliament’s decision to impeach her after her role in a corruption scandal involving a close friend. Following the decision, protests erupted outside of the court and the police have reported two civilian deaths.

What was this scandal she was involved in? To break it down for you, the former South Korean president’s mother was killed by a North Korean spy who actually meant to kill her father. At the age of 22, Ms. Park became the make shift First Lady. She began to develop a relationship with a religious leader who established a cult called The Church of Eternal Life named Choi Tae-min. As he began to acquire a lot of wealth and power, there was speculation that when President Park Senior was assassinated by his head of intelligence, it was because he was being manipulated by Choi Tae-min. By this time, Ms. Park was good friends with his daughter, Choi Soon-sil. On November 20th of last year, Ms. Choi was charged with various offenses. According to BBC, she was “accused of using her presidential connections to pressure companies for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled” (BBC, 2017). Furthermore, she is alleged to have been receiving a huge amount of confidential documents involving North Korea and ministerial candidates. The former President’s corrupt actions; however, lie in her alleged personal involvement with some of Ms. Choi’s crimes including pressuring companies for large sums of money.

Now, South Koreans are shifting their focus to the upcoming Presidential elections in 60 days. Moon Jae-in is favored to be her successor after being unsuccessful in the election against her for the Presidency in 2012.

Moon Jae-in favors progressive foreign policy relations with North Korea. This type of active engagement with North Korea is known as the “sunshine policy”. This policy is “the liberal idea from the late 1990s that engagement can help open up the closed state and narrow the gap between the two Koreas” (Fifield, 2017).

Former President Park agreed just last year to hold the U.S.’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). This is an antimissile battery meant to protect South Korea against North Korean missiles.

THAAD was due to arrive in South Korea next summer, but the Pentagon surprisingly announced that the first shipment arrived just this last Monday.

How does the conjectured President Moon Jae-in feel about THAAD? The possible new President has expressed an openness to reevaluating Park’s agreement to THAAD.

However, it may be difficult for the possible new President to review this agreement if shipment have already begun to arrive in South Korea.

What does this mean for the U.S.? This means that U.S. is caught in the crossroads between needing to maintain stable South Korean relations, but also being wary of a friendship between the Koreas.

Why would the U.S. be wary about a developing relationship between the Koreas? The U.S. has reason enough to be skeptical about this possible relationship because this could mark a changing tide in South Korean state interests. However, on the bright side, a relationship like this could also possibly soften North Korea, and open them up to negotiating / becoming a more transparent, international player.

How did China react to the first THAAD shipment reaching South Korea? According to the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield, “China has vehemently objected to the arrival of THAAD in the region, viewing the deployment as a U.S. attempt to keep China, not just North Korea, in check. To prod Seoul to change its mind, Beijing has imposed painful restrictions on South Korean imports ranging from toilet seats to pop music.”

What does this all mean for the future of South Korean foreign policy relations with North Korea? Even though the new, prospective President is far more progressive than the former Ms. Park, he still may have a lot of trouble bringing the country back into a state of major engagement with North Korea.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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