President Yoon Seok-yul went to Washington to reorient South Korea’s diplomacy by moving closer to the United States and taking a bigger role on the international stage. If the warmth of his reception there was a measure of success, he did well.
President Biden hailed him as “my friend.” “Mr. Yun Belted Out.”“American Pie” While the crowd cheered during the White House dinner. On Thursday, he Addressed The United States Congress thanks the Americans for their support during the Korean War, and appreciates the deep ties between the two countries that helped South Korea become a global technological and cultural powerhouse.
“Even if you don’t know my name, you know BTS and Blackpink,” Mr. Yun said, drawing laughter from US lawmakers. “BTS beat me to the White House.. But I beat them on Capitol Hill.
But Mr. Yun has now returned home to a cooler audience in South Korea — a public that has punished him with low approval ratings and, in some quarters, deep mistrust of a pivot toward the United States that would isolate China. Can and can be a threat to the country. A long tradition of diplomatic caution
Even before Mr. Yun left for Washington, South Koreans were grappling with questions that until recently had seemed distant. How can they feel safe in the rapidly escalating nuclear threat from North Korea? And how should they navigate the increasingly bitter rivalry between the United States, South Korea’s main military ally, and China, its biggest trading partner?
The main answer that Mr. Yoon is bringing home is “Washington Declaration“A joint statement with Mr. Biden. In it, Mr. Biden pledged that Washington would accept South Korea as a close advisory partner in its nuclear strategy on the Korean Peninsula — though the U.S. president has the sole authority to do so. The question remains whether to actually use nuclear weapons.
To show his commitment to “extended deterrence” to defend his ally with nuclear weapons if needed, Mr Biden promised that US nuclear ballistic missile submarines would make port calls in South Korea for the first time in decades. In turn, Mr. Yun reaffirmed South Korea’s intention not to develop nuclear weapons, allaying suspicions in Washington that he might consider a nuclear option, as he Indicated That could be as early as this year.
But as Mr. Yoon has done since his election last year, reviews in South Korea were polarized.
“History will remember the Yoon administration as the first South Korean administration to recognize North Korea’s nuclear program as a present and immediate threat,” said Cheon Seung-hoon, former head of the Korea Institute for the National. “Began preparing a response to this crisis.” Unity in Seoul.
The Washington declaration was “a big win” for South Korea because “for the first time, allies are discussing nuclear deterrence, which Seoul has not been able to discuss with Washington so far,” Kim Do-yeon said. Seoul-based researcher for the Center for a New American Security.
“They are creating scenarios in which not only could North Korea use nuclear weapons, but the United States would direct the use of nuclear weapons in response,” Ms. Kim said. “This is huge because until now, table-top exercises would end before Washington decided to use nuclear weapons. The US considered sharing such information highly classified and so That nuclear use would be a US decision, operation and execution plan.
However, Mr. Yun’s critics at home felt he was giving too much for too little, citing the announcement and separate joint statements by Mr. Yun and Mr. Biden to tone down South Korea’s demands for its nuclear weapons. As a carefully crafted design for force or the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in the South.
Such calls have gained momentum in recent months, as North Korea has tested a series of nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles and detonated nuclear warheads in South Korea. The North has also warned that nuclear first strikes are now part of its military strategy.
“The Washington Declaration may look grand and wonderful, but in reality it is an empty shell.” said Professor Kim Dong-yub at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. There has been no change in Washington’s policy.
Critics also doubted that port calls by U.S. nuclear submarines would do much more than exacerbate regional tensions with China and North Korea and give North Korea another excuse to expand its nuclear arsenal. On Saturday, North Korea called Mr Yun “a fool” and Mr Biden “an old man with no future” and said it was forced to take “more decisive action”.
“They are not ‘extended deterrence,’ but ‘extended crisis,'” Mr. Kim said.
An editorial in the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo lamented what it called the Biden administration’s efforts to “tighten the nuclear grip” on its ally.
“The announcement puts more emphasis on US concerns that South Korea could develop its own nuclear weapons than on the North Korean nuclear threat that fuels such ambitions,” it said. “Ultimately, South Korea must be in a position to defend itself.”
For decades, South Korea’s defense strategy relied on the assumption that the United States would come to its aid if war broke out. But the one-time foundation is losing its credibility. In a poll by the Seoul-based Chi Institute for Advanced Studies late last year, about 49 percent of respondents said they doubted Washington would fight for South Korea over the threat of a North Korean nuclear strike on the US mainland. About 77 percent said South Korea needed to develop its nuclear weapons.
To such skeptical South Koreans, Washington’s promise of extended deterrence is “just rhetoric, however you package it,” said Lee Byung-chul, a nuclear policy researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul. are.”
Many South Koreans are wary of major powers, reflecting their deep resentment over Japanese colonial rule and the division of the Korean peninsula by the Soviet Union and the United States at the end of World War II.
South Korea has kept Japan at arm’s length, although Washington has urged its two main allies to work together to deter China and North Korea. It has also sought diplomatic balance between Washington and Beijing. Its more progressive leaders, like Mr. Yun’s predecessor, Moon Jae-inhas doggedly pursued talks with North Korea, even causing friction with Washington, which has pushed for sanctions.
Mr. Yoon, however, makes a point Shaking traditional balance.
In March, he broke down A break in relations with Japan by promising that Seoul would no longer seek reparations for victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule. Despite concerns about China’s ability to undermine South Korea’s vital economy, Mr. Yun has aligned Seoul more closely with the United States.
“This alliance has now become a global alliance that protects freedom and peace around the world,” he told the US Congress. “Korea will fulfill its obligations.”
While in Washington, Mr. Yun condemned the war against Ukraine as a “violation of international law.” Maritime claims, militarization of reclaimed properties and coercive activities.
Liberal South Koreans cautioned against Mr. Yoon’s approach.
“If South Korea is unilaterally incorporated into the new Cold War system led by the United States, it will have to face the reality that relations with China and Russia, which have strong influence over North Korea. , will face. will become more dangerous, and the risk of a North Korean nuclear crisis and even war on or around the peninsula will increase,” the liberal Hankyoreh newspaper said.
Both hawks and doves in policy circles in Seoul will have reason to be disappointed by the Washington declaration, which “signals neither pressure to negotiate with Pyongyang nor Seoul to acquire its own nuclear deterrent.” promises,” said John Delory of East Asia. Scholar at Yonsei University in Seoul.
But for many South Koreans, especially younger generations struggling with dwindling job opportunities, the more important issue than the North’s nuclear weapons is the economy.
In recent months, hardly a day has gone by in South Korea without headlines expressing concern that Mr. Biden’s deflationary and Chips and Science Act will hurt two of South Korea’s most important industries: Electric cars and semiconductors. But in their joint statement, Mr. Yun and Mr. Biden agreed only to “continue close consultation.”
“Young Koreans don’t know the lyrics to ‘American Pie,’ but they do know about the deflationary law,” Mr. Delory said.