Kyungmin Cho: On Candidate Moon

Kyungmin Cho is a Senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs IA studies and is currently the President of Korean International Studies Organization.

The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s). 

The new era has come. The first female president under the Constitutional history of South Korea has turned into another legacy of the first president to be impeached. With the mounting support rate for the opposition parties, Moon Jae-in triumphantly won the party election, and has stood up as the most prominent presidential candidate. However, his political attitude and populistic approach put himself into question on whether he is apt for successful statecraft.

Moon has used his close relationship to the former president Roh as the cornerstone of his political career where he stands as the representative of the opposition parties. Ever since he stepped into the political arena after Roh’s death, Moon has strived to earn national support with his populistic approach. The problem with this attitude is that he seems to focus on only earning popular support in absence of concrete plans to back his policies. He has made promises to solve the unemployment issue in South Korea by creating 810,000 government jobs. With existing 1.91 million jobs in the public sector, such additions will increase the total number by 40 percent. Regarding the fact that the such increase will enlarge the size of the government, which will not be easily reduced when necessary, a great sum of budget is required to sustain such government scale. Also, the South Korean government cut the pensions for the civil servants in 2015 to mediate the growing national debt. If implemented as Moon planned, the pension system will devour a greater amount of budget to add to the already asphyxiating burden of the nation. Moon implied that through budget adjustments in government spending, he would be able to supply the necessary funding to enlarge government size. Unfortunately, his other pledges don’t seem to give him space to do so.

Moon mentioned the possibility of reducing the mandatory military service term from 21 months to 18 months. This is a great way to mobilize South Korea’s young male generations that have not served or are currently serving in the military into Moon’s support groups. In order to cut the service period while maintaining the same level of national defense, more number of soldiers are required. Unfortunately, South Korea suffers from the low-birth rate that falls short of the replacement rate. With the decreasing number of young male generations, supplementing the demand for more soldiers to carry out Moon’s policy is not viable. Even if this pledge was made in the expectation of decreased demand for large troops due to successful reconciliation with North Korea, Moon must realize that such blind hope may jeopardize 51 million South Korean populations at any time. Furthermore, he promised to increase the military spending from 2.4 percent to 3 percent of South Korea’s GDP. He asserted that this is necessary for a future self-reliant national defense capability after the redemption of wartime operational control from the United States. Even if this increased spending contributes to the more high-tech military modernization to reduce the number of soldiers required, there still rises another need for more troops in management and maintenance work. Here again, Moon did not come up with any concrete plans to supplement the necessity for budget and manpower.

In the context of self-reliant national defense, Moon has been reluctant to deploy THAAD in South Korea. He mentioned in the interview with The New York Times that there is no need to hurry in deploying THAAD, which implies that the deployment may take place in the next presidential term. Moon has been saying that South Korea needs the self-reliant national defense so that it does not get swayed by interests of certain nations, and he believes that saying “no” to the demands from the US alliance is the way to his promised defense system. However, he must realize that the right path toward self-reliant defense is South Korea’s capability to adhere to its best defense interests, not swaying the public by saying arbitrary “no” to the ROK-US Alliance. The deployment of THAAD is under great controversy among South Koreans. Whatever choice he makes on this issue, if he becomes the president, must be made after thorough calculations on how this will fully guarantee the security of South Korea against the threat from the North.

Moon Jae-in has showed favorable attitude in communicating with South Korean citizens. However, it seems like that he has been focusing too much on earning popular support to be elected as a president. Only if he comes up with strategic and concrete plans for his pre-election pledges, I believe that he will be able to earn more support from the diverse groups of voters. He needs credibility for his words.

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Yuchan Kim: Critique on Major Presidential Candidate’s Policy Against North Korea

The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s). 

Yuchan Kim is a Junior at the Elliott School of International Affairs IA studies and is currently the Vice President of Korean International Studies Organization.

For the first time in the history of constitutional government, the 18th President, Park Geun-hye was officially impeached by the Constitutional Court on March 10th, and the National Election Commission officially announced May 9th as the 19th Presidential election. With the impeachment as a lesson, many now recognize the importance of casting a ballot, and it is anticipated that the voting rate will be much higher than that of previous presidential elections. Each voter must compare policies of different presidential candidates and to take those into account when casting a ballot. There are various pledges and policies that each presidential candidate has promised; however, in this article, the policy against North Korea will be discussed extensively as this policy is closely associated with our national security.

First major presidential candidate as well as the forerunner of most of the polls, Moon Jae-in from the Minjoo’s Party, is likely to take on a warmer approach to North Korea. In an interview, he discussed about how visit to North Korea is his top priority[i]. Moreover, Moon emphasized that Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), which was closed-down in 2016 by former President Park Geun-hye, will be reopened, re-operated and further be expanded[ii]. He criticized how hardline policy, which is majorly centered around the sanction, did not solve any problem but caused North Korea to be more dependent on China. In regard to Moon’s pledge of how to deal with North Korea, it seems to be very redundant and unrealistic. First, visiting North Korea requires a legitimate reason that all nations, especially United States, can accept. Furthermore, in this midst of escalated tension, it is highly unrealistic for the top official of a nation that is an adversary to North Korea to safely visit Kim Jong-un. Also, fundamentally, if Kim Jong-un doesn’t want to hold a dialogue (Kim never had a summit with other nations), this visit can be cancelled right away. In regard to KIC, reopening and expanding it will once again bring criticism of investing in North Korea’s missile and nuclear technology; moreover, many enterprises will most likely not invest in KIC as it is prone to shut-down and is highly unstable. Granted, hardline policy was not sufficient in dealing with North Korea, but Moon has to provide more realistic measures.

Another leading candidate from the Minjoo Party, Ahn Hee-jung, emphasized how policy against North Korea must be a mixture of dialogue and pressure along with the international community[iii]. However, I highly doubt whether this policy can be implemented as I view these two elements being contrary to each other. If there is certain pressure, the possibility of holding a dialogue is very slim; moreover, Ahn Hee-jung has to legitimately persuade United Nations Security Council to withdraw or lessen the current level of sanction. Would Trump administration, which is very concerned about North Korea’s recent launch of ballistic missiles, accept this proposal? Highly not. Therefore, Ahn’s statement about incorporating both engagement and hardline policy seems just to gain support from both sides. He needs to cover more details about his policy.

Ahn Cheol-soo, another presidential candidate from People’s Party (third-largest) has emphasized dialogue along with multilateral talks[iv]. However, there has been a failed incident of multilateral talks such as Six Party Talks; furthermore, Ahn’s policy of increasing military spending and continuing THAAD deployment will surely discourage both North Korea and China from participating a multilateral talk with South Korea and United States[v]. Therefore, if Ahn wants to implement such policy, he needs to reconsider his position on military policy or needs to compromise (take other nations’ interests into account) with participating nations such as China.

To sum up, every candidate’s recommended policy against North Korea has an area of criticism; however, one thing that all candidates must seek is to prioritize our national security before they make any pledge; moreover, I, as the citizen of Republic of Korea, want to see sincere, realistic pledges rather than pledges that targets for mere popularity.

[i] Ahn, J. (2016, December 15). Leading ROK presidential candidate to visit N. Korea if elected. Retrieved April 04, 2017, from https://www.nknews.org/2016/12/leading-rok-presidential-hopeful-wants-to-visit-n-korea-if-elected/

[ii] Ji, D. (2017, February 10). Moon pledges major Kaesong Industrial Complex expansion if elected. Retrieved April 04, 2017, from https://www.nknews.org/2017/02/moon-pledges-major-kaesong-industrial-complex-expansion-if-elected

[iii] Fifield, A. (2017, March 04). Little-known governor runs as the hope and change candidate in South Korea. Retrieved April 04, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/little-known-governor-runs-as-the-hope-and-change-candidate-in-south-korea/2017/03/03/6d2b8e76-fe99-11e6-9b78-824ccab94435_story.html?utm_term=.b2ca406c948c

[iv] Presidential hopeful eyes multiple levels of dialogue with North Korea. (n.d.). Retrieved April 04, 2017, from http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2017/03/02/0301000000AEN20170302010700315.html

[v] People’s Party may soften stance on THAAD. (2017, February 21). Retrieved April 04, 2017, from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2017/02/356_224410.html