Roughly two months ago I saw a heated debate about the newly elected South Korean President Yoon Seok Youl on Twitter. Many Korean Americans and native Koreans alike were disheartened and disappointed in the outcome of the 2022 election. Yoon’s campaign, who is a part of the conservative People Power Party, was plagued by controversy on his views on women’s rights, rights of the disabled, anti-discrimination laws and overall equal rights for all Korean citizens and foreigners. These issues have been at the forefront of the 2022 election season for all candidates in the race.
Upon hearing of Yoon’s victory many took to Twitter to express there heart felt concern of the direction South Korea would take under his leadership. Many even compared his win with the likes of the 2016 win of American president Donald Trump as stated in this March 2022 article written by Yim Hyun-su for The Korea Herald http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20220228000935. The comparison did not sit well with many Korean nationals. They felt that those who were not citizens of South Korea, whether they be of Korean decent or not, did not have a right to an opinion on the election or Yoon’s presidency. This caused a pretty ugly back and forth among Netizens. However, this debate made me think about how I felt about this new president-elect as an American citizen. Do I even have a right to an opinion?
America and South Korea’s 70 year Relationship
I am actually writing this while watching the inauguration of President Yoon Seok Youl live on the Arirang News channel. Quite honestly, this is the first time in my over 40 years on this planet that I have watched the inauguration of another countries president. Why should I bother, how does this change in leadership affect me or why should it even matter? Well simply put, as long as the United States has a strong military presence in South Korea, I should be concerned. Change in the leadership affects the United States just like change in U.S. leadership affected them during the Trump administration. In November 2019, the Trump Administration had threaten to pull U.S. armed forces out of South Korea. In addition, the administration wanted to increase the annual amount of financial aid the South Korean government provided to the United States for their military support to almost $5 billion dollars (Reuters Nov 9th, 2021) https://www.reuters.com/article/southkorea-usa-military/trump-considering-withdrawing-up-to-4000-u-s-troops-from-south-korea-report-idUSL3N2804OK. In the end an agreement was reached between the two countries.
However, since the 1953 armistice or truce was brokered by the United States between the North and the South during the Korean War, the United States has been the largest ally of South. People forget that technically the war between North and South was never ratified and no formal peace treaty was signed. It is one of the main reasons that most South Korean males between the age of 19-28 must enlist for a minimum of 18 months in one of the branches of the South Korean armed forces. There is no peace treaty nor resolution between the two sides. Hence, this is why the U.S. still has at least 15 known active military bases in the Southern peninsula of Korea. The lives of over 28,000 American military personal is contingent on the leadership of not only the U.S. president but the president of both North and South Korea. For a list and more information of the military operations in South Korea please click on the link. https://militarybases.com/overseas/south-korea/#:~:text=US%20Military%20Bases%20in%20South%20Korea%20%7C15%20Bases%20%7C%20Military%20Bases
President Yoon and the United States
In approximately two weeks United States President Joe Biden will be in South Korea to meet with President Yoon to discuss the agenda implemented during the Biden-Moon summit in 2021. Based on a March 2022 article written by Victor Cha and Dana Kim for The Center for Strategic and International Studies (https://www.csis.org/analysis/yoon-seok-youl-what-expect-south-koreas-next-president) , the two will discuss “an uptick in frequency of joint military exercises with the United States“, and Yoon’s support of President Biden’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. Also most likely to be discussed is a “push for an additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile deployment to cover Seoul from North Korean missile threats“. Recently there has been increased missile activity from the North Korean military. Talks with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un have become stagnant since Former South Korean President Moon Jae In‘s meeting with him in 2018. One of the main points of a possible treaty between the North and South is in fact North Korea’s relationship with the United States. In a December 2021 article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/13/north-south-korea-agree-in-principle-formal-end-war-us), Former President Moon is quoted as saying, “…North Korea had made an end to US hostility a precondition for talks. And because of that, we are not able to sit down for a negotiation on the declarations between South and North Korea, and those between North Korea and United States,” he said at a press conference with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison. “And we hope that talks will be initiated. We are making efforts towards that.”. Therefore conversations between the newly sworn in President Yoon and President Biden in the up coming weeks will be an intracule part of any further talks with North Korea and Kim Jong Un.
Global Interest of Korean Politics
No one wants to look on Twitter or read in a global publication negative critiques about your country or your newly elected President. Especially if you are a proud citizen of your country, it’s believes, it’s values and the positive global impact your country has made in recent years. Let’s face it, I wasn’t this invested in South Korean politics until around 2017. As I became more engrossed in Korean entertainment and therefore started following Korean media, my knowledge of politics or current affairs on the peninsular was minimal at best. However, for the past almost 5 years, I either read or listen to South Korean current affairs in some regard on a daily bases. Does that make me an expert in Korean politics, absolutely not. Yet, I do have a right to an opinion. The social, economical and political direction South Korea takes could and will likely affect how the country operates in the next 5 years of the Yoon administration. That could very well affect the Hallyu wave, the artist and the entertainment that it produces and exports. In the end, that will affect how I spent my money, add to the Korean GDP and how consume entertainment from the country.
In addition, as a citizen of the Untied States, the relationship between South Korea and North Korea will be of great interest. Whether or not an agreement can be reached between the two remains to be seen. However, there is no doubt that U.S. military presence in South Korean and it’s boarders are here to stay for the unforeseen future. If for whatever reason President Yoon Seok Youl can not maintain peace with the North, the U.S. will be the first to stand with the South in defense. I don’t think there is a bigger reason than that to at least have an opinion on the new president, his views and his newly appointed administration. Since February, the world has looked at the war between Russia and Ukraine. Now going into the third month of this war, there is not a country that has not been affected in some way. Whether that be sanctions on Russian imports and exports, exchange students trying to find safety and a way home, or goods and financial support that NATO countries have sent in support of Ukraine. So, it is not unreasonable to expect that citizens from around the world to have an opinion on a newly elected president, especially from a country with such global presence as South Korea.
Respectful Debate and Global Unity
I hope that in the upcoming years as South Korea adjust to the change of its political administration, that global Netizens can have respectful yet honest debates on topics that not only affect Korean citizens, but the world as a whole. I think of the outpouring of global support in 2020 during the George Floyd protest that occurred in the Untied States. Although some felt it wasn’t their place to discuss or comment on the racial issues of the U.S., there was an overwhelming amount of global support, even from citizens of South Korea. As those Yoon campaign controversies eventually play out as new policies, changed policies or amended law, it is with great hope that global citizens can support the citizens of South Korea as they fight for their own voice to be heard by their government. Too often we spent more time critiquing instead of supporting. Or we step back because we feel like it’s not our place to speak out on another countries political affairs. However, I hope we all have learned in these past few months what happens when you don’t speak up about the injustices happening in or to another country.
Until next time….