With electing a new president, South Korea has fallen into a familiar pattern that promises to revive a governing philosophy of years past. Unfortunately it’s a philosophy that failed in previous attempts to deal successfully in the one area crucial to the survival of the nation, resolving the long-standing internecine conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The menace from a nuclear North Korea is likely to persist with no end in sight.
Moon Jae-in, the 64-year-old liberal leader of the Liberty Korea Party, defeated conservative prosecutor Hong Joon-pyo, by 41 percent to 24 percent, with lesser candidates sharing the remainder of the electorate. The balloting was held on short notice owing to the recent impeachment and removal from office of President Park Geun-hye, a conservative who was implicated in a corruption scandal.
Political disgrace is nowhere welcome, but it’s especially jarring in the Asian culture. South Koreans turned their backs on the conservatives and chose for the most dramatic alternative in Mr. Moon. In doing so, they endorsed a pledge to ease tensions with North Korea in a dangerously risky way. His championing of a two-track scheme to reopen dialogue with the North, while employing economic sanctions to force change, might succeed, but Barack Obama’s similar strategy with Iran demonstrates its ineffectiveness with hard-line ideologues.
The Moon approach would resurrect the so-called “Sunshine Policy” employed by his liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun to little effect a decade ago. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has another name for the Moon strategy: “Groundhog Day,” from the 1993 movie comedy about a forlorn weatherman doomed to repeat Feb. 2 until he puts things right. In this case, repeating a failed strategy isn’t likely to be very funny.
Kim Jong-un is unwavering in his pursuit of a functional intercontinental ballistic missile on which to mount his nuclear warheads. The maximum leader in Pyongyang giddily threatens to unleash them on Seoul, Tokyo, Honolulu, San Francisco or any other place where criticism of his iron-fisted rule abounds. His targets would include Washington, too, once he develops missiles capable of such long-distance reach.
Peace is nearly always preferable to war, and President-elect Moon’s desire to calm the Korean peninsula is admirable. However, the odds of constructive engagement with his belligerent counterpart is wishful thinking. His talk of removing the U.S.-provided THAAD defensive missile shield from Korean soil as a gesture of goodwill betrays a blindness to his nation’s vulnerability.
With Mr. Moon’s capital of 10 million under the shadow of North Korea’s heavy artillery, risking all on the hope that Pyongyang will suddenly forsake bullets for brotherhood is naive, indeed. Undercutting President Trump’s get-tough strategy of positioning a naval task force in the Sea of Japan undermines U.S. national security as well.
The hacking organization called Anonymous has posted a video urging humanity to make preparations for World War III owing to the escalation in tensions between North Korea and the United States. With his threat to nuke the U.S. in a pre-emptive strike, it should be clear to Mr. Moon that Kim’s reading list does not include “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Koreans call their home “the land of the morning calm.” The new president in Seoul must make sure he doesn’t usher in the calm before the storm.
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