South Korea's recent president could change the country's relations with U.S. and China

South Koreas new president could change relations with the U.S. and China

March 11, 2022: South Korea’s incoming president Yoon Suk-year is expected to revive a conservative stance on foreign policy, which could change the country’s relations with the U.S. and China, analysts said.

According to Tom Rafferty, Asia regional director at The Economist Intelligence Unit, relations with North Korea, the U.S., and China will be of particular importance.

That could be regarding buying another THAAD missile defense system as a countermeasure against North Korea, said Karl Friedhoff, the fellow in public opinion and Asia policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

But a cozier relationship with the U.S. could affect Seoul’s relations with China, South Korea’s huge export market, Rafferty told CNBC on Wednesday.

Yoon could try to take a much tough line on China, but Friedhoff said the incoming president would soften when faced with the economic consequences.

Still, Friedhoff told CNBC on Wednesday. Before results were announced, he expected “alliance management will be smoother under Yoon” before results were reported compared with rival candidate Lee Jae-Myung of the Democratic Party.

While South Korea has supported social issues such as human rights and democracy, Friedhoff said, the country now faces recent economic trade-offs in maintaining those positions.

He said that Seoul may have made itself vulnerable to Moscow’s retaliation by joining international sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I think the big challenge is going to be the fact that when you look at South Korean imports from Russia, almost 60% of those imports are either crude petroleum or refined petroleum,” he said.

“Russia may turn around and try to punish South Korea for [joining international sanctions] by starting to restrict some of those exports,” Friedhoff said.

But Yoon’s slim win signals the country is divided into many issues, said Darcie Draudt, a postdoctoral fellow at the George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies.

Yoon, the leading conservative opposition candidate, is claiming victory with 48.6% of the vote, which beats Lee by less than one percentage point.

“There was a tepid response initially as candidates, so Yoon has his work cut out for him, as he mentioned in his acceptance speech, to unite the country,” Draudt told CNBC on Thursday.

Gi-Wook Shin, a professor at Stanford University, agreed that domestic politics could be filled with a lot of tension and fights in the future years.

While Yoon was South Korea’s top prosecutor, he had limited political experience.

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