Moon Flounders on Key Foreign and Defense Challenges

  • By Jeong Woo-sang

    June 09, 2017 12:05

    President Moon Jae-in marks his first month in office Friday amid solid approval ratings. But he faces significant challenges in the diplomatic and defense areas due to North Korea's missile launches and the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery from the U.S. here.

    A senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters Thursday, "We faced difficulties in diplomacy and national security from the onset." But Moon is still struggling to appoint his foreign and defense ministers.

    North Korea on Thursday continued its missile provocations with a volley of surface-to-ship cruise missiles into the East Sea. It was the fifth missile test the North conducted since Moon took office.

    North Korea has succeeded in testing a wide range of missiles. If it manages to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland, the isolated country's nuclear and missile capabilities will be nearly complete.

    Pyongyang has rejected overtures from Moon, and even the friendly opposition is criticizing his approach to the North. People's Party policy chief Lee Yong-ho said, "It looks like unrequited love."

    Relations with Washington and Beijing are also difficult. Moon has decided to allow the continued deployment of two THAAD battery launchers that have already been set up but put the brakes on the rest while an environmental impact assessment is carried out.

    The move has caused some in Washington to worry about the bilateral alliance, notably Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, who met Moon early this week and said that Moon "thinks that South Korea has a better chance working with China to contain North Korea than working with [us]."

    China, meanwhile, is taking advantage of what could be read as weakness, with the Global Times, a government mouthpiece, saying the delay tactics are not enough to repair frayed relations.

    Moon's attempts to appoint his foreign and defense ministers are progressing at a snail's pace. The confirmation hearings of his nominee for foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, have hit a brick wall as opposition lawmakers allege ethical lapses, and Moon has yet to find suitable defense and unification ministers.

    The president has announced his nominees for only six out of 18 top government posts.

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