What should Yoon Biden expect at the upcoming South Korea-US summit? – The Diplomat

The Koreas | Diplomacy | East Asia

Yoon has been compared to Biden’s own nemesis, Donald Trump, but he’s far from a political iconoclast.

US President Joe Biden will meet new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for the first time in Seoul on May 21. It will be an important meeting for the two leaders – not only to strengthen the South Korea-US alliance, but also to collaborate on a range of pressing issues. issues, from North Korea to the Russian-Ukrainian war to the protection of liberal democracy. The summit, which will be held just 11 days after Yoon’s inauguration as president, will be his debut as a political leader on the international stage. Unlike political veteran Biden, Yoon only officially entered politics last summer and has yet to develop a political background. What should we expect from the new South Korean president during this first summit?

During the hotly contested campaign, Yoon’s opponents criticized him as South Korea’s Donald Trump. Western media and pundits also tended to portray him in a similar vein as an “anti-feminist political novice” with a “Trump-style brand of highly divisive identity politics.” Certainly, he is not a conventional democratic leader who values ​​negotiation and compromise; he envisions a strong South Korea that can stand up to China and North Korea, echoing Trump’s “America First.” Yet such a characterization risks setting off a false alarm that can seriously mislead the United States and other allies in their approach to his administration.

First and foremost, Yoon is not a “political outsider” in Trump’s sense. While Yoon, unlike every South Korean president since democratization, has no legislative experience in the National Assembly, he served as attorney general under the Moon Jae-in administration, a leadership position often requiring a good political judgment as well as legal expertise. Yoon built his reputation as a fierce fighter against abuse of power and corruption, swinging public opinion in his favor. This degree of legal, political and political experience is far from playing in “The Apprentice”.

Above all, Yoon garnered strong support among conservatives, successfully mobilizing various factions to create an anti-Moon coalition and win elections, such as Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. offering only limited political experience and many critical appointees having remained vacant, Yoon is backed by the seasoned conservative establishment joining his administration. In this regard, Yoon recalls George W. Bush, whose first official foray into Washington politics came after serving as governor of Texas and who relied on the close network of the Republican establishment, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for policy and political guidance. .

The main candidates for Yoon’s cabinet and presidential office are well-known figures with extensive political experience. The new unification minister, Kwon Young-se, was a four-time member of the National Assembly and served as Seoul’s envoy to Beijing under the Park Geun-hye administration. Yoon’s national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, is a professor at Korea University and served as deputy minister of foreign affairs and trade under the Lee Myung-bak administration. Yoon is also backed by a powerful group of South Korean elites who attended Seoul National Law School, his alma mater. Such reliance on the experienced hands of the conservative establishment reduces uncertainty for the Biden administration.

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Yoon is expected to take a largely conventional conservative stance on major political issues, both domestic and foreign. His economic policy will likely be market-led and minimize state intervention, replacing Moon’s policies such as “revenue-driven growth” that Korean conservatives call socialist. On foreign policy, Yoon is seeking to strengthen the US alliance and restore relations with Japan, which under Moon were the most tenuous since relations normalized in 1965.

It should be noted that as president-elect, Yoon sent his special delegation to the United States and Japan followed by the European Union, but not to China and Russia, unlike the previous one. Yoon is expected to take a tough stance against Beijing and Pyongyang rather than embrace appeasement.

At the upcoming summit, Yoon will have the opportunity to assure the global public that he is not South Korea’s Trump, but a reliable partner of the United States and other allies who share democratic values. In his inaugural speech, he repeatedly emphasized the importance of “freedom” to send a clear signal of his determination to protect liberal democracy both at home and abroad. This is great news for Biden, who badly needs the support of allies like South Korea in his fight against global autocracy.

Just as Yoon will be tested, the summit offers Biden the opportunity to demonstrate that he is ready to work closely with the new South Korean president, overcoming concerns uncovered during his campaign. in order to strengthen the alliance and democracy.

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