May 29, 2024

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As South Korea’s president travels to the US, the military relationship is in the limelight

On April 24, the President of South Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, will travel to Washington as the allies intensify their military cooperation, particularly with Japan, a regional ally of the United States, in response to North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear weapons programme.

This year, Pyongyang has completed a record-breaking number of sanctions-breaking launches, including this month’s check-firing of the nation’s first solid-fuel ballistic missile, a significant military technological advance for Kim Jong Un’s forces.

In reaction, Mr. Yoon has pushed South Korea closer to its longtime ally Washington and even attempted to mend fences with Japan, a country that once colonised South Korea, in an effort to constrain North Korea.

However, the South Korean president’s internal approval ratings have plummeted as a result of widespread criticism of how he handled a recent leak of American intelligence that seemed to indicate Washington was snooping on Seoul.

Furthermore, he is having trouble reassuring the South’s increasingly uneasy populace about the U.S.’s dedication to so-called “extended discouragement,” in which American resources, including nuclear weapons, are used to deter assaults on allies.

A majority of South Koreans now believe the country should indicate that it develops its own nuclear weapons. Mr. Yoon made the suggestion that Seoul might go with this choice.

In addition, Mr. Yoon has received domestic criticism for a March summit with the prime minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, with detractors charging that he prioritised diplomacy over settling disagreements over Tokyo’s policies towards Koreans during the war, particularly forced labour and sexual slavery.

Joe Biden, the president of the United States, wants two of Washington’s biggest regional partners to cooperate more closely on North Korea.

The “ironclad” partnership “has grown far past the Korean Peninsula and is now an influence for good in the Indo-Pacific as well as throughout the world,” the White House declared after the visit.

More than 120 corporate leaders from South Korea, including Samsung Chairman Lee Jae-yong, will also be travelling with Mr. Yoon, and this visit may be an opportunity to allay their worries over the Biden Inflation Reduction Act.

The law, about which Seoul has already protested to Washington, “will negatively impact South Korean companies and their (electric vehicle) battery shipments to the U.S.,” said Minseon Ku, a political science expert.

According to Mr. Ku, Mr. Yoon places a high value on the success of the trip since it would increase his popularity, particularly in the area of foreign policy.