ROK in a critical situation

Thursday, 2017-03-09 17:23:12
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Special prosecutor Park Young-soo announces the results of their investigation into a scandal involving ROK President Park Geun-hye, in Seoul, March 6, 2017. Photo: Reuters
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NDO – The Republic of Korea (ROK) is currently in a tough period faced with numerous difficulties both at home and abroad. The “Choi Soon-sil scandal” continues to shake domestic politics and is causing deep social divisions. Meanwhile, missile tests conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and controversies with China concerning the United States’ deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system in the ROK are posing a lot of “headaches” for the Seoul administration.

The “Choi Soon-sil scandal”, which has rocked ROK politics for several months, is showing no signs of cooling down. On March 6, the ROK’s Special Prosecutor’s Office officially wrapped up a four-month investigation and concluded that suspended ROK President Park Geun-hye conspired with her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, to take bribes from Samsung Group aimed at cementing Samsung Chief Jay Y. Lee’s control of the conglomerate. Thus, Park’s political future will be determined by the final verdict of the ROK Constitutional Court. At the upcoming trial, should the Constitutional Court approve the National Assembly’s proposal to impeach Park and suspend her presidency, a presidential election will be held two months later. In the opposite case, Park will be back to work as normal until the end of her presidential term in February 2018.

The political climate in the ROK was shaken in December 2016 as the national legislature of the ROK voted to impeach and suspend Park’s presidency claiming that the President let her close friend Choi Soon-sil intervene in State affairs and colluded with Choi to pressure the ROK’s big companies to contribute to Choi-run funds and to pursue personal benefits and extort dozens of millions of US dollars. The deep social division in the ROK and the rift within the ruling party as a result of this scandal have led the domestic public to anticipate a possible “dethronement” in ROK politics. Recent local survey results showed that Moon Jae-in, a presidential candidate of the opposition Minjoo Party, continues to hold the highest support rate from voters over the last nine weeks, coming in 20 percentage points higher than the runner-up, acting President cum Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn.

Meanwhile, the situation of the Korean Peninsula is becoming hotter and hotter due to the DPRK’s missile tests in response to the annual ROK-US joint military exercise from March 1 to the end of April. The Foal Eagle drills shares the same scale as in 2016 with the involvement of 17,000 US soldiers and 300,000 ROK troops backed by US modern warships and warplanes.

The situation has become increasingly complicated as acting ROK President cum Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn declared to soon complete the implementation of the US’s THAAD in the ROK and ordered the ROK military to maintain top alert in the framework of the ROK-US alliance to cope with “aggressive acts” from the DPRK.

THAAD has a range of 200 kilometres and is designed to intercept short and medium ballistic missiles in the last stage before these missiles can reach their intended targets. In addition to the intercepting capability, the THAAD system also consists of advanced radars. While Seoul and Washington stated that the deployment of the THAAD system in the ROK aims to counter increasing threats from the DPRK, China and Russia claimed that the move not only threatens their national security interests and seriously damages the strategic balance in the region, but also pushes the Korean Peninsula situation into a deadlock.

Strong protests from China and Russia against the THAAD deployment in the Korean Peninsula have adversely affected the relations between the ROK and these two powers. The ROK-China economic ties are at risk of being severely damaged, which would have a significant impact as the two countries are large trade partners of each other, and Beijing proclaimed that it would issue adequate response measures. Observers stated that political and foreign relations between Seoul and Beijing-Moscow would also be badly influenced.

The ROK is falling into a critical situation and looks to be the toughest period faced by the Seoul administration in recent years. In the current context, the regional and world public has called on relevant parties to keep calm and resume trust dialogues aiming to soon bring the situation in the ROK in particular and in the Korean Peninsula as a whole back to stability, for peace, security, cooperation and development in the region and around the world.