Home News and Politics Shocking Revelation: President Yoon’s Controversial Pro-US Foreign Policy Shakes South Korea’s Domestic Politics to its Core!

Shocking Revelation: President Yoon’s Controversial Pro-US Foreign Policy Shakes South Korea’s Domestic Politics to its Core!

Shocking Revelation: President Yoon’s Controversial Pro-US Foreign Policy Shakes South Korea’s Domestic Politics to its Core!

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol Aligns Foreign Policy with the United States

Author: Seong-Hyon Lee, Harvard University

The foreign policy shift introduced by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, aligning the country more closely with the United States, has not yet translated into an increase in his domestic approval ratings. Despite this bold strategic redirection, Yoon continues to face lukewarm support from the South Korean public.

A Surprising Direction

When Yoon, with no foreign policy background, assumed the presidency in 2022, it was expected that he would focus on domestic matters. However, he surprised many by adopting a foreign policy approach that diverged from South Korea’s recent past and leaned towards the United States.

Yoon’s foreign policy stance stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, former president Moon Jae-in, whom Yoon labeled as “pro-China.” Yoon has made it clear that he intends to establish a clearer position on US-China relations, a departure from President Moon’s pro-China policies.

The Transformational Camp David Summit

Yoon played a pivotal role in organizing the recent trilateral summit between the United States, Japan, and South Korea at Camp David. This summit, made possible by Yoon’s efforts to reconcile with Japan, South Korea’s former colonizer, holds historical significance and has been compared to the AUKUS pact. However, it fell short of formalizing a military alliance and has raised concerns about the potential for a new Cold War.

A Values-Driven Approach

Yoon’s foreign policy is rooted in democratic values and emphasizes alliances based on shared ideals. He has identified Japan as a partner that shares universal values and has been vocal about condemning human rights violations in North Korea and China’s forced repatriation of North Korean escapees.

Under Yoon’s leadership, South Korea has participated in its first NATO summit and allowed intermittent dockings by US nuclear submarines in its ports as a deterrent to North Korea. South Korea has also endorsed the Camp David joint declaration, which addresses China’s behavior in the South China Sea and reaffirms South Korea’s stance on Taiwan.

Strengthening Economic Ties

Yoon has also focused on strengthening economic links with the United States. During a visit by President Joe Biden to Seoul, his administration officially embraced the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Major South Korean corporations, including Samsung and Hyundai Motor, have pledged significant investments in semiconductor and electric vehicle battery manufacturing facilities in the United States.

Challenges and Future Outlook

Despite these notable shifts in foreign policy, Yoon’s domestic approval rating remains modest at 34 percent. This can be attributed to several factors, including his policies, leadership style, press freedom concerns, and controversies surrounding the first lady’s exercise of power. These challenges exemplify the complex dynamics of South Korean politics.

As a single-term president, Yoon has the autonomy to pursue his policy trajectory. However, the endurance of his policies after his tenure remains uncertain, especially if a successor from the traditionally anti-Japanese progressive side of politics assumes office. Public disapproval of Japan’s decision to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear facility highlights the delicate balance leaders must strike between diplomacy and domestic sentiment.

The Achilles’ heel of Yoon’s ambitious foreign policy may lie in the domestic economy. Rising unemployment rates, particularly among young professionals, underscore pressing economic concerns. The economy consistently ranks as the top concern for South Korean voters, and further deterioration could weaken Yoon’s fragile domestic support.

South Korea’s increasing security collaboration with the United States necessitates the establishment of robust economic alliances to offset potential losses in the Chinese market. Yoon’s legacy will depend on his ability to convince South Koreans that aligning with the United States serves both strategic and economic interests.

The April 2024 legislative elections will serve as a pivotal moment for Yoon. The results will test his performance and could potentially weaken his policy momentum if his party faces defeat. A change in presidency could lead to a rollback of Yoon’s signature policies, particularly in the realm of foreign relations.

Seong-Hyon Lee is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University Asia Center and a Senior Fellow at the George HW Bush Foundation for US–China Relations.


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