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Editorial: Policies on North Korean threat key to South Korean presidential poll

How will South Korea respond to North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities? The outcome of the South Korean presidential election will have a major impact on the stability of the Northeast Asian region. Japan needs to keep a close eye on the election.


The registration of candidates for the March 9 presidential election has closed, and the election campaign has officially started.


The election is effectively a two-way battle between Lee Jae-myung from the ruling party, which aims to continue the leftist administration, and Yoon Seok-youl from a conservative opposition party, which aims to change the government.


Ahn Cheol-soo, the candidate from the moderate opposition party who is in third place in opinion polls, has proposed to Yoon that they unify their candidates. If this were to happen, the votes critical of the administration would not be dispersed, which would benefit the opposition.


In their campaigning so far, both Lee and Yoon have proposed measures to deal with soaring condominium prices and to support young people who are having difficulty finding jobs. This is because the people are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the widening disparities.


It is deplorable that scandals involving the families of both leading candidates have erupted, and they have been engaged in a blame game with each other, making light of policy matters.


Although diplomatic and security issues have not been a major theme in campaigning, South Korea is facing the difficult task of steering the ship through a challenging security environment. The confrontation between the United States and China is intensifying while the military threat from North Korea is growing more serious.


Will South Korea continue to take “pro-North Korea” and “pro-China” stances like the current leftist administration? Or will it return to placing importance on cooperation with the United States and Japan, which share the values of freedom and democracy? Depending on who becomes president, the regional situation will change.


Lee has said he will continue the reconciliatory policy with North Korea, aiming for economic cooperation and a declaration of an end to the Korean War.


On the issue of whether there should be additional deployment of the U.S. military’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the area around the South Korean capital as a way to deal with North Korean missiles, Lee opposes this, taking China’s wishes into consideration.


On the other hand, Yoon has made clear his policy of strengthening the U.S.-South Korea alliance and has emphasized the need for additional THAAD deployment. He has also acknowledged the importance of cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea in North Korea policies.


North Korea agreed on the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” at the 2018 inter-Korean summit, but has since persisted in its nuclear ambitions and dialogue with the United States has been deadlocked. North-South relations have also remained stagnant.


The North Korea policy of the current South Korean administration under President Moon Jae-in has temporarily fostered a mood of dialogue, but it has failed to ease tensions. South Korea needs to face up to this harsh reality and rethink its policies. It is hoped each candidate will deepen discussions and present the voters with a basis for their decision.

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