Yoon is picking the right people, says FeulnerThe first summit between Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden on Saturday will serve as a compass for future diplomacy. We asked two experts who have been observing South Korea-U.S. relations for decades how the South Korean and U.S. leaders will get along: John Hamre, president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Edwin Feulner, founder of The Heritage Foundation.
There is a saying that “diplomacy is like jazz.” Coined by the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, it means that diplomacy should have a central theme of national interests, but improvisations have to be made depending on the situation and partners. It is difficult to find anyone with a wider view of diplomacy than Edwin Feulner, founder of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.
Feulner founded the foundation in 1973 and served as its chairman until 2013. Yoon Suk-yeol met Feulner at the offices of the transition committee on April 27, while he was president-elect. Feulner’s role as president of the foundation’s Center for Asian Studies, which he took on after resigning from his 40-year tenure as chairman, reflects his love for regional issues, including the the Korean Peninsula's.
Feulner described the first South Korean-U.S. summit as “a meeting that is difficult to fail,” and said, “It is an important meeting in which the two presidents must deliver a clear message.”
“One of the most important tasks is confirming that South Korea will solve the North Korean problem in line with the international community,” said Feulner.
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. What are the core issues for the South Korea-U.S. summit?
A. Yoon’s policies are in alignment with those of the United States, so there is no expectation of a negative summit meeting. During Biden’s visit, the two leaders should declare the necessity of a comprehensive policy toward North Korea that seeks diplomacy while conditioning benefits on progress toward denuclearization. America’s newly appointed Ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg, knows the challenges we all face with North Korea on matters of denuclearization. This must be reaffirmed by both sides.
What will be the key messages the two leaders bring to the summit?
Biden should affirm the unequivocal U.S. extended deterrence guarantee while Yoon should reciprocate by affirming the importance of improved South Korean-Japanese relations to enable stronger trilateral cooperation in addressing common security threats.
What should be the top three priorities in terms of foreign policy for the Yoon administration in its first 100 days?
The first priority should be delineating a North Korea policy that continues efforts at diplomacy while conditioning economic benefits and sanctions relief on North Korean compliance with UN resolutions. The second should be improving relations with Japan by separating historic issues from addressing common security threats of this millennium. Lastly, the Yoon administration should define and articulate a larger security role for South Korea in the Indo-Pacific region.
What would be advantages or disadvantages of a right-wing administration in dealing with foreign policy?
The Moon administration pursued a conciliatory policy toward North Korea that offered benefits that would have violated sanctions, ignored threats and insults, restrained South Korean freedom of speech, and advocated on Pyongyang’s behalf. The U.S. government even felt it necessary to directly contact South Korean banks, businesses, and government agencies to remind them of the parameters of international sanctions and U.S. laws concerning economic relations with North Korea.
The Yoon administration will not seek a premature OPCON transition nor an ill-advised peace declaration. Yoon advocates strengthening the South Korean-U.S. relationship to serve as the foundation for more pragmatic and principled policies toward both Pyongyang and Beijing, which should be reassuring to Washington.
Yoon’s personnel selections to head the foreign and security policy establishment are all seasoned veterans with extensive government experience. They will provide him with advice on the foreign policy challenges he and his administration will face. “People are policy” and Yoon is making very good people choices.
How can South Korea and Japan mend their relations?
South Korea-Japanese relations are always strained to some degree. The most recent iteration was brought on by poor choices by both sides. The Yoon administration should file an amicus brief to have the courts take into account the executive branch’s foreign policy prerogatives in legal cases dealing with historic issues. It should also affirm the importance of the GSOMIA with Japan and work towards trilateral and multilateral military exercises.
For its part, Japan should remove the export controls it implemented in response to the South Korea court cases.
What about South Korea-China relations?
Under the Yoon administration, there is greater potential for improved relations with Tokyo, there will very strong policy alignment and reduced friction with Washington, but Yoon’s willingness to be more assertive in criticizing Chinese misbehavior could cause tensions with Beijing.
What would North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be thinking now? Do you expect more ICBM or nuclear provocations to come in the foreseeable future?
During the Moon administration, North Korea engaged in record levels of nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, all of which were violations of UN resolutions. Pyongyang will continue these provocations with the current trend suggesting even stronger provocations. Some will blame Yoon “hardline” policies for future North Korean provocations but the regime was already doing those under Moon.
BY CHUN SU-JIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]