Connect with us

East Asia

President Yoon Suk-yeol: Challenges and Prospects

Avatar photo



President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, photo released by the People Power Party

Yoon Suk-yeol (윤석열) of the conservative People Power Party (PPP) (국민의힘) defeated Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung by a razor thin margin of 0.8% vote share to become South Korea’s 13th President-elect. What are the challenges he faces and can his proposed policies meet them?

The Man

Yoon is often referred to as the ‘Korean Trump’ not just because of his political views but also because of his meteoric rise in the political arena, reminiscent of former US President Donald Trump.

He has previously served as the prosecutor general of South Korea and grabbed the limelight during the trial of former president Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak who had been charged with corruption, with the former being impeached for it.

Even though serving under liberal President Moon Jae-in, Yoon became the conservatives’ favourite for launching a probe on Moon’s close aid and pick for Justice Minister, Cho Kuk, on charges of corruption and due to his scathing criticism of the former’s policies. He has ever since been a steely figure of the anti-corruption campaign.

A novice to politics, He declared his candidature for the 2022 Presidential elections in late June 2021 and by July joined the PPP. Earlier this month, Yoon defeated the liberal candidate Lee Jae-myung with just 263,000 votes; the slightest margin since the Democratic transition in 1987.

Grave Challenges

Several grave challenges await Yoon both on the domestic front and abroad.

Domestic Challenges

Yoon gets elected amidst a sharp rise in South Korea’s coronavirus cases with a record 400,000 cases in a single day. Curbing the pandemic would be a humongous task.

A major challenge that he faces are the political divisions within the country. Apart from the regular demographic factors of age and regionalism, this election saw an interesting trend of divisions along gender and ideology. Yoon’s bitter remarks against gender equality and men being at a ‘disadvantage’ due to calls for feminism worked as 58.7% of the men in their 20s and 52.8% in their 30s, the dominant age group in the workforce, voted for him.

An ideological controversy also erupted months before South Korea went to polls. At the eye of the storm was one of the most popular beverage brands, Starbucks. In January 2022, Shinsegae’s Vice Chairman  Chung Yong-jin (the parent company of E-mart which owns 67.5% of Starbucks outlets in South Korea) posted an anti-Communist post on social media crticising Chinese President Xi Jinping’s silence on his official’s remarks of South Korea being a ‘minor country’. He labelled it with the hashtag “멸공” or “destroy communism”. Soon after, he posted another photo of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un with the same hashtag. This marked Chung’s fifth anti-communist social media post in a month. The move irked Democratic Party Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung to the extent that he declared never to drink a Starbucks coffee again. His supporters rallied and on January 10, Shinsegae’s stock value decreased by 6.8% and closed at ₩23,000. Chung apologised for his behaviour and promised not to post anti-Communist content again. While Communism as an ideology stands banned under the National Security Law, progressivism has been a major force. Yoon’s wafer thin margin of victory shows that this force would  pose a recurrent challenge.

Another challenge is the massive housing crisis in South Korea. The ratio of housing debt to disposable incomes has been rising sharply. It was 138.5% in 2008 and rose to over 200% by 2020. Households now owe twice more than their means to spend.

Unemployment and economic downturn are also major issues. In 2021, South Korea’s jobless rate hit the highest in more than two decades. Unemployment rate surged from 4.5% in December 2020 to 5.4% in January 2021. There is also widespread disenchantment among the youth, who call themselves the “Sampo generation” (삼포세대) i.e. those who have to give up courtship, marriage and children because of unaffordability, due to growing income inequalities.

Challenges abroad

The biggest challenges that South Korea faces abroad is to mend relations with Japan that have worsened over the years; resolve the strategic dilemma over balancing relations with the United States on side and China on the other, and address how far Seoul would be willing to go on the question of Taiwan’s sovereign status where till now they have shown ambiguity.

The biggest challenge however, sits just across the border. North Korea’s aggressive missile launches and threats of resuming its nuclear programme which has been under a self imposed moratorium since 2017 threaten to destabilise not just the regional order in Northeast Asia but also peace and stability of the whole world. The biggest threat is to South Korea.

Yoon’s proposed policies

While his opponent Lee Jae-myung called for greater government participation to meet these challenges, Yoon believes in free market solutions and retreat of the government.

On the housing issue, Yoon promises to build 1.3 million homes in Seoul and surrounding metropolitan areas and additional 1.2 million homes using a budget of ₩12.1 trillion. Young first-home buyers in their 20s and 30s are at the top of his plan who would be offered 300,000 units below market price. These houses could then be sold back to the government after 5 years with a potential investment return margin of upto 70%.

Yoon is also likely to ease both loan restrictions on housing and on the rental market led by private investors.

Unlike Moon, Yoon will abandon the plan of creating more jobs in the government sector and  focus on the private sector.

He has also called for easing restrictions put in place on the large family run business conglomerates or Chaebols (재볼). Describing Moon’s 52 hour week work policy a “failure”, Yoon has called for greater labour flexibility where workers can choose between permanent and part time jobs. His earlier statement that workers should work for 120 hours a week drew heavy criticism.

He has promised to incentivise investment capital to promote private ventures like  Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs), fuel Fourth Industrial Revolution ventures such as in Artificial intelligence and promote startups.

Yoon’s political stances are known to have been problematic on certain aspects. Not only was his 120 hour week work statement highly controversial but his open appreciation for former dictator Chun Doo Hwan, who was responsible for the brutal Gwangju massacre of 1980, has drawn much flak. He later apologised for his words but soon followed it up with a social media post of a dog being fed an apple. It was considered a mockery of his apology as “apple” and “apology” are homonyms in Korean language, written as “사과”.

Yoon is also seen as an anti-feminist. In January, he called to “abolish Ministry of Women and Family” as he believes feminism has ‘adverse’ effects on birth rates and healthy relationships  and that women face “no systematic discrimination”, despite many reports claiming otherwise. His statement received high support from Idaenam (이대남) or men in their 20s who are known to hold negative opinions towards feminism, while many women’s organisations found it deeply disturbing. His wife is also known to have been extremely critical of the MeToo campaign.

On foreign policy, toeing the line of the Conservatives, Yoon is all set to tilt further to the US. While Seoul’s foreign policy has always had a soft corner towards Washington, Progressives like Moon are known to have attempted to balance relations and find an independent course.

Yoon has vowed to continue the agenda of the May 2021 Biden-Moon summit emphasising on cooperation across multiple sectors such as semiconductors, aerospace industries, etc.

He would not only join the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework but would also support Washington’s policies in the region focussed on containing growing Chinese influence. Yoon has supported the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad (comprising India, US, Japan and Australia). He is likely to commit to Moon’s plans of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA).

Yoon is likely to return to the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD),  the anti-ballistic missile defense system offered by the US. The deployment soured relations with China which viewed it as a threat to its own sovereignty and  was cancelled by President Moon when he came to power in 2017.

He declared that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would be the second leader after US President Joe Biden whom he would meet after becoming the President, indicating a thaw in relations with Tokyo.

Yoon has been highly critical of Moon Jae-in’s reconciliatory approach towards Pyongyang and has called for harsher sanctions on North Korea, which he described as the “main enemy”.

Will they help?

None of Yoon’s proposed policies address the structural issues in South Korea’s economy. His housing and market reforms offer limited respite to only a few economic classes and are exclusive in nature. He has no clear plan when it comes to addressing environmental concerns and healthcare infrastructure which has been severely weakened under the weight of the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Moreover, his controversial statements on Chun Doo Hwan, workers and women challenge South Korea’s cherished democratic ideals and are likely to create opposition against his regime.

His proposed foreign policy too threatens to create instability. While it will lead to a thaw in relations with Japan and might bring Seoul closer to Taiwan, it is set to worsen relations with China which might come at a huge economic cost. Yoon’s harsh stance on North Korea and plans to enhance military cooperation with Washington in the region will have an adverse impact on inter-Korean relations. While Pyongyang’s attitude over Moon’s reconciliatory approach is upsetting, negotiations are the only way out. Putting harsher sanctions would not only add to the drudgery of the common people while the political elite up North stay unaffected but would further embolden Pyongyang to react in extreme ways.

At the moment, Yoon’s policies do not present any long term solutions to the challenges that he faces. He needs to be more inclusive in domestic policy making  and adopt a more rational and moderate path in foreign policy.

Non-resident Vasey Fellow at Pacific Forum, Hawaii. Cherry Hitkari is an Advisory Board member of 'Tomorrow's People' at Modern Diplomacy. She holds a Masters in East Asian Studies specialising in Chinese Studies and is currently pursuing an advanced diploma in Chinese language at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, India.

Continue Reading

East Asia

Assad’s visit to China: Breaking diplomatic isolation and rebuilding Syria

Avatar photo



Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Hangzhou, capital city of east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 22, 2023. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

The visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to China to participate in the opening of the Asian Games came as a serious step to try to break the diplomatic isolation from Syria.  Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” was keen to meet his counterpart Xi Jinping in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China, where the Asian Games are being held, as this was the Syrian president’s first visit to China since 2004.  According to the Syrian regime’s Al-Watan newspaper, Al-Assad will attend the launch ceremony of the (nineteenth edition) of the Asian Games, which will open on September 23, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.  This visit to Bashar al-Assad reflects the great coordination between Moscow and Beijing, as it is likely that the Russians pushed for this visit at this precise time.  Perhaps, through his visit to China, Bashar al-Assad is trying to deliver a specific message about the start of “international legitimization” of his regime.  Syria’s accession to the Belt and Road Initiative in January 2022 is an indication of the possibility of implementing vital Chinese projects, especially since it is located between Iraq and Turkey, making it a vital corridor for land routes towards Europe.

 Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China also comes in an attempt to attract it to reconstruction projects in the affected areas in Syria, as China has the ability to complete reconstruction infrastructure in residential and civilian areas with exceptional speed. This is the same as what the Chinese ambassador to Syria “Shi Hongwei” announced in August 2023, that “Chinese companies are actively involved in reconstruction projects in Syria”. The war in Syria led to massive destruction of infrastructure and the destruction of many vital sectors of the Syrian economy, including oil, while the Syrian government is subject to harsh international sanctions.  We find that the Chinese side has shown great interest in the reconstruction projects in Surba, such as the presence of more than a thousand Chinese companies to participate in (the first trade exhibition on Syrian reconstruction projects in Beijing), while they pledged investments estimated at two billion dollars.

  China played an active role through diplomatic movements in Syria, as it participated in the “Astana” process, and obstructed Security Council resolutions related to Syria, to confirm its position in support of Damascus, using its veto power more than once in the Security Council, against resolutions considered to be a blow to Assad’s “legitimacy”.  In September 2017, the Syrian regime classified China, along with Russia and Iran, as “friendly governments” that would give priority to reconstruction projects. Therefore, Al-Assad affirmed during his meeting with Chinese President “Xi Jinping” that: “this visit is important in terms of its timing and circumstances, as a multipolar world is being formed today that will restore balance and stability to the world, and it is the duty of all of us to seize this moment for the sake of a bright and promising future”.

  According to my analysis, China follows the policy of “breaking diplomatic isolation on presidents and countries against which America is angry”, so the visit of “Bashar al-Assad” comes within a series of visits that China witnessed during the current year in 2023, to presidents who are isolated internationally by the United States of America, such as: Venezuelan President “Nicolas  Maduro”, the Iranian President ”Ibrahim Raisi”, and the Belarusian “Alexander Lukashenko”.

  China is also keen to conduct interviews in its newspapers and official websites affiliated with the ruling Communist Party with many presidents and officials of countries isolated internationally and diplomatically by the United States of America and the West, such as the Chinese keenness to conduct and publish an interview with Syrian Foreign Minister “Faisal Mekdad” on September 21, 2023, and the Chinese reviewed his statements, saying that “the United States of America has plundered oil, natural gas, and other resources from Syria, causing losses worth $115 billion”. The Chinese newspaper “Global Times”, which is close to the ruling Communist Party, also focused on the United States’ greater role in the deterioration of “Syria from stability to chaos” . The Chinese newspaper compared this to China’s policy, which constantly calls for peaceful dialogue and opposes “foreign interference” .

   Through his visit to China, Syrian President “Bashar Al-Assad” is trying to lay the foundations for joint cooperation between China and Syria within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, with full Chinese support for Syria’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a dialogue partner. China has always affirmed its firm support for Syria’s efforts against foreign interference, with the Chinese rejection of the stationing of illegal forces on Syrian territory. China is also making great efforts with many countries to lift sanctions and the illegal economic blockade on the Syrian people, in addition to Chinese support for building Syrian capabilities in the field of combating terrorism. Knowing that despite its alliance with President “Bashar Al-Assad”, China did not participate in supporting him militarily, but it used the right of criticism to obstruct the passage of resolutions against him in the Security Council.

   We can reach an important conclusion that Bashar Al-Assad’s visit to China has a greater political track, and that Beijing is trying to play a greater role in the issue of resolving conflicts or to have a greater actual role in negotiations related to sensitive issues in the region. The implications of Assad’s visit to China are also politically significant, as China is trying to play a greater political role in the region, as China has been trying since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the emergence of a vacuum in the Middle East as a result of the decline of Russian influence due to its preoccupation with the war, so Beijing is trying to expand in the Middle East and Africa. 

Continue Reading

East Asia

China’s Inclusive Diplomacy for Global Cooperation

Avatar photo



President Xi Jinping’s address at the recently held 2023 CIFTIS resonates as a powerful call for inclusive development and cooperation in the services trade sector. China’s commitment to expanding market access, increasing connectivity, and aligning policies with global standards demonstrates its commitment to ensuring a level playing field for all nations.

This commitment extends across different sectors, including telecommunications, tourism, law, vocational examinations, and the larger services sector. President Xi’s address emphasized China’s intention to expand broader, broaden market access, and support inclusive development in the services trade sector. His sentiments resonate with the global world as China seeks to create new prospects for openness, cooperation, and economic equality.

Over the last few decades, the services trade landscape has changed drastically, becoming an essential component of international business. However, this expansion has not been uniform, with developing countries frequently encountering difficulties such as limited market access, complex rules, and capacity limits that prevent them from fully participating in international services trade.

Notably, China is committed to promoting inclusive growth in the services trade sector. It assured of taking continuing steps to accelerate Chinese modernization through high-quality development, to open up new avenues for openness and collaboration for all countries.

Through openness, cooperation, innovation, and shared services, China emphasized the need for inclusive growth and connectivity. Recognizing that a rising tide in services trade should raise all boats, particularly those from nations with limited resources, China has launched a series of ground-breaking initiatives. Additionally, China is actively expanding its network of high-standard free trade areas, participating in negotiations on the negative list for trade in services and investment.

China is setting an example by aligning its policies with international standards. President Xi highlighted in his speech that national integrated demonstration zones for increased openness in the services sector, suitable pilot free trade zones, and free trade ports will be at the forefront of aligning policies with high-standard international economic and trade regulations. These zones demonstrate China’s commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to international cooperation and growth.

Real-world examples vividly demonstrate the practical impact of China’s assistance to developing countries in the services trade. China’s investments in transport infrastructure, such as the Standard Gauge Railway, have considerably facilitated the flow of goods and people in Kenya, boosting the services sector indirectly.

Pakistan’s experience with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is similar, with improved physical connectivity catalyzing the expansion of digital services and e-commerce. Various infrastructure developments in Indonesia have resulted in spectacular advances, opening up new potential for services trade.

Ethiopia, too, has reaped the benefits of China’s commitment, with active participation in industrial parks reviving the services sector, which includes logistics, banking, and education. These real-life success stories highlight China’s critical role in facilitating the expansion and development of services trade in developing countries.

China’s commitment to capacity building and technical aid is critical in its support for developing countries in the services trade. China provides these countries with the knowledge and skills they need to participate effectively in the services trade by offering specialized programs. Furthermore, China’s significant investments in infrastructure projects such as ports, logistical hubs, and telecommunications networks play an important role in facilitating the smooth flow of services.

Furthermore, China’s commitment to reducing entry barriers and optimizing regulations indicates the country’s persistent commitment to creating an equitable environment. This approach not only promotes equitable possibilities but also simplifies market access, making it easier for developing countries to export their services to China’s enormous and dynamic market.

Furthermore, China gives significant financial support in the form of loans and grants for service trade-related initiatives, recognizing the financial problems that many developing countries confront. This financial assistance enables nations to overcome economic challenges and invest in the expansion and improvement of their service sectors, thereby encouraging economic equality and cooperation.

As the world continues to evolve, services trade will play an increasingly important role in global economic growth, and China’s leadership in this realm is helping to shape a future where opportunities are shared, disparities are reduced, and cooperation knows no bounds. It is a vision worthy of appreciation and support since it is consistent with the ideals of justice and equality, moving the globe closer to a more linked and wealthy global community.

Continue Reading

East Asia

China’s Multilateral Engagement and Constructive Role in the G20



Image source: X @narendramodi

The recent G20 Summit in India has once again taken center stage, attracting global attention as it gathered together leaders and delegates from the world’s 20 most powerful economies. This high-profile event was significant in shaping international relations and addressing serious global concerns due to its broad presence and crucial talks. This high-stakes gathering occurs at a pivotal juncture, marked by escalating divisions among major powers on a multitude of pressing global issues, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict, global economic recovery, food security, and climate change.

The recent inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a permanent member within the G20 serves as a positive signal, signifying consensus among major economies. However, lurking concerns persist about the formidable challenges involved in achieving unity and issuing a joint declaration in the midst of these complex global dynamics.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s opening remarks at the 18th G20 Summit in New Delhi resonate as he underscores the paramount importance of unity and collaboration among G20 member nations. He emphasizes the critical need for effective coordination of macroeconomic policies to restore hope and generate momentum for long-term economic growth.

 Premier Li eloquently highlights the interconnectedness of humanity’s destiny and calls upon nations to demonstrate mutual respect, seek common ground while momentarily setting aside differences, and work tirelessly towards peaceful coexistence. In a world characterized by profound crises and shared hardships, he aptly observes that no nation can thrive in isolation. Therefore, the only plausible pathways for guiding humanity forward are those rooted in cooperation and harmony.

The G20, originally established to navigate global financial crises and forge collective strategies for addressing economic challenges while fostering global economic development, has, regrettably, experienced a decline in consensus and a rise in differences among major powers. This shift has been particularly evident since the onset of the Ukraine crisis and the United States’ strategy of containment against China. Consequently, the G20 is increasingly devolving into a forum marked by discord, rather than the once-productive and constructive multilateral mechanism it was intended to be.

Nevertheless, the G20 retains its significance as a pivotal forum for international collaboration in confronting global challenges. With the increasing contributions of developing nations like China, India, and African countries, the voices within the G20 have diversified, no longer solely dominated by Western perspectives. As a response, the United States seeks to regain control of the multilateral process to further its agenda of great power competition. However, this approach is unlikely to be warmly received by the broader international community.

China remains steadfast in its commitment to deepen reforms and open up further to foster high-quality development and its unique brand of modernization. China views itself as a catalyst for additional momentum in global economic recovery and sustainable development. China stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders to contribute to the well-being of our shared Earth, our common home, and the future of humanity. Despite Western media’s attempts to sensationalize China’s stance and magnify perceived differences, China continues to play a constructive role within the G20, dedicated to its multilateral mission.

To ensure that the G20 remains a platform focused on global governance rather than being overshadowed by geopolitical conflicts, China remains determined to fulfill its constructive role within the group, regardless of attempts by Western powers to politicize the mechanism. China’s efforts have expanded the G20 to include the African Union, effectively transforming it into the “G21.” China was the first nation to endorse African Union membership in the G20 and advocates for the African Union to assume an even more significant role in international governance.

The growing divisions and disputes within the G20 have eroded its effectiveness as a platform for addressing global challenges. These divisions, primarily driven by American actions and policies, have spawned tensions with far-reaching global implications, from the Ukraine crisis to escalating tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea. These developments underscore the critical role the G20 plays in promoting cooperation and unity.

Amid the current geopolitical landscape characterized by major powers’ divisions, tensions have surged, resonating globally and causing ripple effects. From the Ukraine crisis to tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea, the significance of the G20’s role in fostering cooperation and unity cannot be overstated.

All G20 member nations must recognize the urgent imperative of cooperation in building a world that is safer, more prosperous, and increasingly peaceful. Given the global challenges that transcend narrow national interests, effective responses can only be crafted through international cooperation. The G20 stands as a pivotal arena for this cooperation, with China’s positive contribution being indispensable in promoting cohesion.

Despite Western media’s efforts to sensationalize China’s position and magnify perceived gaps, China remains a committed multilateral partner within the G20, dedicated to constructive engagement. The G20 continues to serve as a critical platform for addressing global concerns, fostering unity, and promoting international collaboration. As the world grapples with intricate issues, it remains imperative that nations adhere to the principles of multilateralism and collaborate relentlessly to secure a more prosperous, peaceful, and sustainable future for all.

Continue Reading