The dramatic has happened in South Korea. In the aftermath of President Park Geun-hye stepping down over a corruption scandal, a left-leaning liberal is set to step into the presidential palace in Seoul. The striking feature of the election of Moon Jae-in is the widely anticipated impact on geostrategy on the other side of the demilitarized zone. Mr Moon has let it be known that he favours engagement with North Korea, which in itself will be a momentous development should it fructify in a lessening of the almost relentless tension that has historically provoked the West to have a finger in the simmering pie…not to ignore the role of China in the power-play. The President-elect has gone beyond rhetoric. If his signal of intent is an indication, there may be hope yet of a potential rapprochement with Pyongyang. Much as he intends to mend fences with the North, as unpredictable as it is hostile, Mr Moon seems riveted for now to domestic policy. In course of the campaign, the Democratic candidate had managed to expand his liberal support base by attracting conservatives. There is little doubt that within the country, he has been able to reach out to the other side of the political spectrum.
He has pledged to reform South Korea’s powerful chaebols ~ family-owned conglomerates ~ and address the challenges of rising inequality and unemployment. The election result reaffirms that by playing to the people's gallery, he has, at any rate for now, been able to build up a support base. South Koreans who backed Moon are hoping the election result and the change of guard will mark a clean break from the corruption scandal surrounding his predecessor. He has made it pretty obvious that foreign policy is his next major plank. Towards that intricate end, he has called for a more conciliatory approach towards North Korea, after mounting tension in recent months over the Kim regime’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes ~ both a source of tension for the West, pre-eminently the US. With liberal winds blowing in Seoul, profound may be the shift in approach.
Whether or not the overtures to Pyongyang will be readily endorsed by the likes of Donald Trump need not detain us. It would be presumptuous too to imagine that an attempted rapprochement could drive a wedge between Seoul and its allies in Washington. It must be conceded nonetheless that President Moon's moderate approach is in sharp contrast to the belligerence of President Trump. He has tempered his overtures with a caveat on the crux of the issue ~ he will not tolerate advances in Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, warning that any attack on South Korean soil would invite a "devastating military response". If South Korea is on the turn, a change in bilateral dynamics may well be worth a try.