SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday he would cement an alliance with the United States, build a powerful military and stand firm against North Korean provocations, hours later. after winning a hard-fought election to become the country’s next leader.
Yoon, a conservative whose single five-year term begins in May, said during the campaign that he would make a stronger alliance with the United States the center of his foreign policy. He accused incumbent liberal President Moon Jae-in of leaning towards North Korea and China and away from the United States. He also stressed the need to recognize the strategic importance of restoring ties with Japan despite a bitter dispute over the history of the war.
Some experts say a Yoon government will likely be able to strengthen ties with Washington and improve relations with Tokyo, but will likely be unable to avoid friction with North Korea and China.
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“I will rebuild the South Korea-US alliance. I will (make it) a comprehensive strategic alliance while sharing key values like liberal democracy, a market economy and human rights,” Yoon told a televised press conference.
“I will establish a strong military capability to completely deter any provocation,” Yoon said. “I will firmly address North Korea’s wrongful and unreasonable behavior in a principled manner, although I will always leave the door open for South-North talks.”
After his election victory, he spoke on the phone with US President Joe Biden. According to a White House statement, Biden praised Yoon and underscored the United States’ commitment to defending South Korea. He added that the two men had also agreed to maintain close coordination to deal with threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea did not immediately comment on Yoon’s victory. In recent weeks it has tested a series of sophisticated nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its arsenal of weapons and pressure the Biden administration to make such concessions. than an easing of sanctions in the context of stalled nuclear diplomacy.
Last week, North Korea said it had tested cameras and other systems needed to operate a spy satellite. Its state media quoted leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday as saying his country needed reconnaissance satellites to monitor “US imperialism’s aggression troops and vassal forces.”
On Japan, Yoon said Seoul and Tokyo should focus on building forward-looking ties. “The focus in South Korea-Japan relations should be to find future paths that benefit the peoples of both countries,” he said.
The two countries are both key allies of the United States and are closely linked economically and culturally, but their relationship soured after the war during Moon’s presidency due to disputes over Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida expressed a desire to communicate with Yoon to improve relations. But he said Tokyo would stick to its position that all compensation issues were settled in a 1965 treaty.
Yoon, who ran on the ticket of the main opposition People Power Party, previously served as Moon’s attorney general. But he quit the Moon government and joined the opposition last year after high-profile infighting over his investigations into some of Moon’s allies.
Wednesday’s election was largely a two-way showdown between Yoon and ruling Liberal party candidate Lee Jae-myung. The pair have spent months slamming, mocking and demonizing each other in one of the most bitter political campaigns in recent memory, deepening the country’s already severe domestic division.
Lee and his allies attacked Yoon for his lack of experience in foreign policy and other state affairs.
They said Yoon’s hardline stance on North Korea would unnecessarily provoke the North, and that choosing a side between Washington and Beijing would pose a greater threat to Seoul’s security. Yoon accused the Moon administration of being “subjugated” to North Korea and China at the expense of South Korea’s 70-year-old alliance with the United States.
Yoon’s whirlwind victory against Lee was seen in part as a referendum on Moon’s liberal government, whose popularity has waned in recent years due to its inability to address stark economic inequality, deteriorating labor markets and soaring house prices that present a bleak financial future for many people in their 20s and 30s.
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Yoon has focused much of his campaign on vows to create more jobs and restore social mobility by creating a fairer and more competitive environment for young people. He has sharply criticized the Moon government for policy failures and high-profile investment scandals surrounding Moon allies that he says exposed hypocrisy and disregard for the law.
On domestic issues, Yoon faces urgent tasks to suppress a record surge of COVID-19, mitigate growing economic inequality and soaring property prices, and heal a nation sharply divided along regional lines, ideologies, age and gender.
Yoon was criticized during the campaign for stoking gender animosities by promising to abolish the country’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which he accused of pushing policies unfair to men.
As he reportedly tries to win the votes of young men who speak out against gender equality policies and the loss of traditional privileges in a hyper-competitive job market, exit polls released after Wednesday’s election reported that his gains in male votes were largely overruled by young women. who turned to Lee.
At Thursday’s press conference, Yoon dismissed accusations that her campaign had raised gender tensions and reiterated that the country no longer had structural barriers to women’s success.
“When it comes to gender issues, the laws and systems are pretty much in place now,” he said. “Instead of approaching the issue as a matter of equality and fairness between groups, I believe the government should provide a stronger response and protection regarding individual cases of injustice.”
Yoon said building a better response to the pandemic would be a priority for his transition committee, which would design plans to boost the country’s medical capacity and create more effective financial packages to help devastated service sector businesses. .