See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Politics

Moon bogged down by multiple crises

S Korean president faces emboldened North Korea, unpredictable US leader and tricky situation with Japan.


Written by

Updated: August 13, 2019

Just over two years into his five-year term, President Moon Jae-in is facing the biggest crisis of his term yet, pressed on all fronts due to the weak economy, domestic politics, ties with North Korea and other diplomatic concerns.

Japan, history and trade

Topping the long list of issues which Moon faces is the escalating tension with Japan. Since he took office, bilateral relations with Tokyo have gradually deteriorated, culminating in its recent trade restrictions.

In July, Japan applied additional restrictions on exporting key semiconductor-related materials to South Korea, and earlier this month removed the country from its whitelist of trusted trade partners that receive preferential treatment in importing more than 1,000 items.

Although Tokyo has cited a number of different reasons, Seoul has taken them to reflect retaliation for the Supreme Court’s decision regarding victims of forced labor, and the ruling Democratic Party has branded its measures as “economic invasion.”

South Korea’s top court sided with those forced to work for Japanese firms during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, but Tokyo claims that the matter was settled through the Treaty on Basic Relations signed in 1965.

With the reaction of both sides intricately linked to domestic politics, experts say that the situation is likely to linger for some more time.

“If our government backs off, there will be a significant political impact. The (Shinzo) Abe government had hoped to use South Korea to foster its conservative base to push for a constitutional revision, so if Japan backs off now, Abe will face political difficulties,” said National Korea Diplomatic Academy professor Kim Hyun-wook.

Japan’s moves have been widely interpreted as being part of Abe’s plans to revise his country’s pacifist constitution.

However, Kim said that Japan is likely to go slow on its plans due to the domestic economic conditions.

“Regardless, looking at the situation now, the (Seoul-Tokyo) face-off will continue,” Kim said.

Kim Jong-un and Trump

Even inter-Korean relations, one aspect that Moon appeared to outshine his predecessors, have soured in recent weeks.

Since May, North Korea has conducted a series of short-range projectile weapons tests, including those for newly developed ballistic missiles.

US President Donald Trump’s unpredictable approach does not appear to have helped matters.

Rather than condemn the tests as serious provocations, as would be expected of a US leader, Trump effectively gave tacit consent, downplaying their significance by referring to them as “very small,” and saying that the weapons are possessed by “almost every country.”

His comments appear to have emboldened Pyongyang.

In a statement released on Sunday, Kwon Jong-kun, director-general of the Department of American Affairs at the North Korean Foreign Ministry, claimed that “the US president has effectively recognized our right to self-defense,” referring to Trump’s comments.

In the statement, Kwon ridiculed Seoul, comparing Cheong Wa Dae to a “scared dog” and referring to Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo as “laughable.”

The statement also clearly excluded Seoul from any dialogue involving North Korea, saying all denuclearization talks that take place in the future are “strictly between North Korea and US.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un himself has also been quoted as saying that the weapons tests were a warning to the South.

Moon is also facing increased pressure from Trump in the defense cost-sharing negotiations.

Trump has claimed that Seoul has agreed to further raise its share, even as South Korean authorities claim the negotiations have not yet begun. He went further, saying that it is easier to get $1 billion from South Korea than it was to collect rent from his New York properties.

The US president had used similar tactics ahead of renegotiating the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement, announcing on Twitter that Seoul and Washington are negotiating a “new deal” after his first summit with Moon in June 2017. Seoul had also refuted Trump’s comment at the time, but talks to modify the pact soon followed.

According to Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University, several factors are behind the current situation, one of which is the lack of experience of Moon’s diplomatic and national security aides.

“(The aides) don’t have a diplomatic background. So, they have difficulty in resolving bilateral problems,” Shin said. He went on to say that as Moon could have selected those with more experience, he cannot avoid blame for failing in that regard.

National security

North Korea’s weapons tests have raised concerns about gaps in the South’s defense capabilities, with some claiming that Seoul may lack the capabilities to shoot down the missile fired on Saturday.

While the North has only revealed that it is a newly developed weapon, some experts have raised the possibility that the projectile fired on Saturday may be a type of cluster bomb.

The South Korean government, however, refutes doubts about the country’s capabilities, citing the rapid increase in the defense budget since Moon took office.

“(The South) is continuously strengthening its defense capabilities in response to the changing threats,” a high-level Cheong Wa Dae official said on condition of anonymity, citing increases in defense budget as evidence.

According to the official, the defense budget increased at an annual average rate of 8.2 percent under Moon, compared to 4.1 percent and 5.2 percent during the Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak administrations, respectively.

“Of the defense budget, 32.9 percent is for improving defense capabilities, it is the highest since the Defense Acquisition Program Administration was established in 2006,” the official said, adding that Moon has stressed the importance of “peace through strength” on numerous occasions.

In addition to North Korea, China and Russia have also probed the boundaries of Seoul’s defenses, sending warplanes into South Korea’s air defense identification zone and into its sovereign airspace.

According to Shin, the national security issues and other concerns with Japan, to some extent, are due to the South Korea-US alliance.

“The basis (of the issues) is the South Korea-US alliance. China and Russia are looking to alter it. North Korea ridiculing (the South) and Russia’s interest comes from (cracks) in the alliance,” Shin said.

“A party that has the upper hand ridicules its opponents. But (South Korea) is not responding (to North Korean threats) for the sake of denuclearization. If we let things be, it will get worse.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Korea Herald
About the Author: The Korea Herald is the nation’s largest English-language daily and the country’s sole member of the Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Politics

‘History will take note of those who ridiculed removal of Article 370’: PM Modi in Maharashtra

PM Modi also expressed confidence that the BJP will break all victory records in the October 21 Maharashtra Assembly elections. Prime Minister on Thursday once again lashed out at the opposition saying that history will take note of those who mocked the abrogation of Article 370, that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. “Whenever Article 370 will be discussed in history, — the decision that was taken in the interest of the country — the people who opposed and ridiculed will be remembered,” PM Modi said while addressing a poll rally in Maharashtra’s Parli. He said the next week’s state Assembly elections were a battle between BJP’s “karyashakti” (power of development) and opposition’s “swarth shakti” (selfishness). Further targeting the Congress and NCP leaders, he wondered if “frustrated and dejected” people could do anything good for people. “A Congress


By The Statesman
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Malaysia’s PM Mahathir says rail line RTS linking Johor Baru to Singapore to proceed

The rail line has been on again and off again. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday (Oct 17) said Malaysia will proceed with the 4km Johor Baru to Singapore rail line. His comments about the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail link followed that of Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke on Tuesday that details of the project will be decided by the Malaysian Cabinet within two weeks. Tun Dr Mahathir said when asked by reporters on Thursday: “We will proceed with the RTS but we will take some time.” Asked if this meant the Malaysian government had resolved 


By The Straits Times
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

S. Korean, ASEAN officials look ahead to special summit and stronger regional ties

Korea has increasingly look to Southeast Asia as an export destination and regional partners. Ahead of the highly anticipated summit in Busan next month between the leaders of South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, top officials from participating countries gathered in the southern port city Wednesday and voiced high expectations for the future of the relationship between South Korea and the ASEAN nations. South Korean Ambassador to ASEAN Lim Sung-nam, ASEAN-Korea Center Secretary-General Lee Hyuk, Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don and Myanmar Ambassador to South Korea U Thant Sin said they looked forward to the upcoming summit, calling it a steppingstone to stronger South Korea-ASEAN ties and to economic prosperity and peace on the Korean Peninsula. “In the past 30 years, the relationship between South Korea and ASEAN has grown to an astonishing degree. Trade volume rose 20-fold and human e


By The Korea Herald
October 18, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

We will never abandon people of occupied Kashmir, says Army chief during LoC visit

The army chief said that the Pakistan army will fulfil its role no matter the cost. Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa while visiting troops stationed along the Line of Control (LoC) on Wednesday vowed “to never leave Kashmiris alone” in their fight against Indian oppression. “Kashmiris in IOJ&K are bravely facing Indian atrocities under continued siege. We shall never leave them alone and play our rightful role at whatever cost”, said Gen Bajwa. Gen Bajwa’s remarks followed a briefing of the “deliberate targeting of civilians” by Indian troops and the response by Pakistan’s armed forces. A day earlier, at least three civilians died and eight others were injured in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after Indian troops resorted to “indiscri


By Dawn
October 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Lam was forced to deliver speech via video after protests. Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage on Wednesday (Oct 16) as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of mostly violent anti-government protests. Mrs Lam was forced to deliver her speech via video after her annual policy address in the Legislative Council was aborted when some lawmakers repeatedly jeered and shouted at her as she began speaking. After aborting her speech in the chamber tw


By The Straits Times
October 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Singapore’s 4G leadership lays out plans to take relationship with China ‘to a higher level’

The two countries share a close relationship. Singapore’s fourth-generation leadership has a comprehensive plan for engaging with China economically and plugging into the East Asian giant’s rapid development. Ten members of the “4G” cohort drove home this point as they spoke with Singapore media at the end of a bilateral meeting in Chongqing on Tuesday (Oct 15) that was of particular significance, as the Singapore team was composed fully of this new generation of political leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat led the Singapore delegation as he co-chaired the 15th Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation, the highest-level bilateral platform between Singapore and China. Mr Heng, who took over the reins from former DPM Teo Chee Hean earlier this year, said his first meeting in the new role was forward-looking and productive, and that he took the opportunity to “


By The Straits Times
October 16, 2019