Analysis: South Korea’s new president could be a nail in the coffin of South Korea’s commitment

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SEOUL, March 10 (Reuters) – Park Yong-man says his hopes of restarting his garment factory in North Korea’s inter-Korean economic complex in Kaesong seem “beyond the impossible” with the election from conservative Yoon Suk-yeol to the presidency of South Korea.

The project, which housed some 124 South Korean companies and employed 55,000 North Korean workers, was shut down in early 2016 following a rocket launch and nuclear test by the North.

The resumption is among many engagement efforts that appear to be on hold for the foreseeable future amid increasingly divisive moves by Pyongyang and Yoon’s vow to take a tougher line on the North.

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“I wish there would be a miracle. But I fear that under the Yoon government, relations between South Korea and North Korea will only get worse, even to a level where there will be acts and deeds. provocative exchanges,” Park said. His Rok-Sec clothes now make a sixth of what they did in Kaesong, he said, without providing exact amounts.

Yoon’s victory could be a nail in the coffin for outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s policy of engagement with North Korea, which has failed to make significant progress throughout his term.

Yoon, a former prosecutor with no foreign policy background, pledged a heavy-handed military strategy and said preemptive strikes could be the only way to counter an imminent launch of North Korea’s new hypersonic missiles.

The president-elect’s team said he would seek to relaunch talks with North Korea, but on the condition that it takes concrete steps to denuclearize.

They also call for strengthening military deterrence, including strengthening ties with Washington. Read more

“I will sternly respond to North Korea’s illegal and unreasonable acts in accordance with principles, but I will always keep the door open for South-North dialogue,” Yoon said in his first public policy speech as president-elect on Thursday.

Yoon’s presidency could see more impassioned rhetoric, but analysts and campaign aides say North Korea already seems on the path to escalation, at least in the short term, regardless of who occupies the House. Southern presidential blue.

North Korea tested a record number of missiles in January, hinted it could resume testing nuclear bombs or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite. Read more

International observers also reported activity at North Korea’s main nuclear reactor and test site.

“I expect North Korea to raise tensions further, soon, and enough that Yoon can’t even feign lip service,” Korea analyst Christopher Green said. Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The United States says it is ready to talk without preconditions, but North Korea says such overtures are insincere as long as Washington and Seoul maintain “hostile policies” such as military exercises, arms buildups and Sanctions.

North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear-weapon state and is moving towards that goal, said Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“Right now, North Korea doesn’t want a nuclear deal.”

INSUFFICIENT INTER-KOREAN PEACE

In the first months of his term, Moon faced some of the highest levels of tension since the 1950-53 Korean War, before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly declared his full nuclear force. and did not launch a diplomatic offensive that led to an unprecedented North American conflict. Korea relaxation.

However, since a failed summit in Hanoi between Kim and then US President Donald Trump, Moon has seen prospects for a lasting peace crumble, dashing the hopes of many who had invested in the promise of cross-border cooperation.

North Korea has grown increasingly frustrated with Moon’s inability to persuade his U.S. allies to ease sanctions enough to allow some economic cooperation.

The United States has said that no sanctions relief will occur without at least some steps by North Korea to abandon or limit its nuclear and missile arsenals.

“Restarting Kaesong? It’s more than impossible,” said Park, sitting in an empty office with an old photo of his Kaesong factory placed in the corner.

“We want to make a fresh start. Kaesong’s chapter in history must be closed.”

Engagement with Pyongyang is unlikely to be a priority for Yoon.

He faces pressures at home from soaring house prices, widening inequality and a generation of highly educated young voters who don’t have enough good jobs.

“We should ask ourselves whether the South Korean public would support an inter-Korean economic project, which would likely entail heavier economic burdens for the South than for the North,” said Soo Kim, a former CIA analyst specializing in North Korea. and now with the American think tank RAND Corporation.

($1 = 1,231.6600 won)

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Reporting by Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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