S Korea’s new leader offers support if N Korea denuclearizes
South Korea’s new president says he’ll present “an audacious plan” to improve North Korea’s economy if it denuclearizes.
Yoon Suk Yeol made the offer during a speech at his inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday.
Yoon said the door to dialogue will be open to resolve North Korean nuclear threats. He said his government will be ready to work with the international community to present “an audacious plan” that will significantly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve its citizens’ livelihoods.
Yoon, who has previously vowed a tougher stance on North Korea, appears to have avoided tough words amid concerns North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test. But it was unclear if North Korea would accept his overture as the North has previously rejected similar offers to provide incentives linked to progress in its denuclearization.
Conservative Yoon took office, facing a tougher mix of foreign policy and domestic challenges than other recent South Korean leaders encountered at the start of their presidencies.
The former top prosecutor began his five-year term at midnight Monday by taking command of South Korea’s 555,000-member military and receiving a briefing on North Korea from his military chief at the new presidential office in central Seoul, formerly the Defense Ministry building.
Won In-Choul, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told him in a video conference that North Korea is ready to conduct a nuclear test if its leader Kim Jong Un decides to do so. Yoon then ordered military commanders to maintain a firm military readiness, saying that “the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is very grave.”
Since winning election in March, Yoon, who advocates a more hard-line approach toward North Korea, has been denied a honeymoon period. Surveys show less than 60% of respondents expect he will do well in his presidency, an unusually low figure compared to his predecessors, who mostly received about 80%-90% before they entered office. His approval rating as a president-elect was 41%, according to a survey by Gallup Korea released last week that put outgoing liberal President Moon Jae-in’s rating at 45%.
Yoon’s low popularity is blamed in part on an acute divide between conservatives and liberals and on contentious policies and Cabinet picks. Some experts say Yoon, a foreign policy novice, also hasn’t shown a clear vision for how to navigate the world’s 10th largest economy amid challenges such as North Korea’s advancing nuclear arsenal, an intensifying U.S.-China rivalry and pandemic-hit livelihoods.
“Our foreign policy, national security and economy are all in trouble. Yoon should have presented some visions, hopes or leadership to show how he can pull the public together in these difficult times. But I don’t think he has shown such things,” said Professor Chung Jin-young, a former dean of the Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies at Kyung Hee University.
With U.S.-led nuclear disarmament talks deadlocked, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently threatened to use nuclear weapons against his rivals and reportedly is preparing to conduct his first nuclear test in nearly five years.