South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has offered North Korea “an audacious plan” to transform its creaking economy in return for abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.
Speaking on the first day of his presidency on Tuesday, Yoon said: “While North Korea’s nuclear weapon programmes are a threat not only to our security and that of North-east Asia, the door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat.”
Yoon has previously vowed to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang than his predecessor, but appears to have avoided provoking the regime amid speculation that it could be preparing to conduct a nuclear test. North Korea has previously rejected incentives tied to progress on abandoning its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“If North Korea genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearisation, we are prepared to work with the international community to present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people,” he told a crowd of 40,000 people attending his inauguration outside the national assembly in Seoul, according to the Yonhap news agency.
The North’s missiles and nukes were a threat to South Korean, regional and global security, hy het gesê, byvoeging: “The door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve this threat.”
Yoon, a conservative who replaced the liberal former human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in, officially began his presidency at midnight on Monday with a security briefing at an underground bunker – a sign that the North’s nuclear weapons will be high on the agenda throughout his single five-year term.
The North’s leader, Kim Jong-oen, could dramatically raise the diplomatic stakes very soon, with US and South Korean officials speculating that the regime could be preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017 later this month, possibly around the time Yoon is due to meet Joe Biden in Seoul.
“North Korea has the initiative. Regardless of whether conservatives or liberals are in power in South Korea, North Korea is pressing ahead with missile tests under its own weapons development timetable before it tries to tip the balance later,” said Park Won Gon, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “North Korea will now continue its provocations, but there are no ways to stop it.”
Yoon’s decision to join his first security briefing in a bunker is symbolic of his campaign pledges to take a tougher stance on North Korea after Moon’s attempts to engage with Kim failed to make progress on denuclearisation.
In a recent interview with Voice of America, Yoon said that a meeting with Kim was not off the table, but would need to produce results.
“There’s no reason to avoid meeting” Kim, hy het gesê. “Maar, if we are not be able to show any results, or results are just for show and does not have actual outcomes in denuclearisation … it’s not going to help the relationship between the two Koreas progress.”
At home, where he faces a deeply divided public and a hostile national assembly controlled by the main opposition Democratic party, Yoon will be expected to tackle inflation – now at a 13-year high – that threatens his campaign pledge to address growing inequality and rising property prices in the world’s 10th biggest economy.
Yoon, wel, has been denied the usual honeymoon period enjoyed by new presidents. Enigste 55% of respondents expect him to do a good job as president – an unusually low figure compared to his predecessors – according to a poll by Gallup Korea.
As Moon’s former prosecutor-general, Yoon helped investigate another former president, Park Geun-hye, before she was impeached and imprisoned in 2017 for corruption and abuse of power. He has vowed to continue the fight against corruption, even as several of his cabinet nominees were accused of ethical lapses and misconduct.
Yoon will also come under pressure to address simmering resentment among young men – a key source of support in the election – over what they perceive as unfair advantages given to women, Alhoewel Suid-Korea fares poorly in gender equality.
Yoon said he would abolish the country’s gender equality ministry, but has since suggested that it is no longer a policy priority, leading to speculation that he will “rebrand” the body rather than abolish it.
He has also indicated he intends to build “future-oriented” relations with Japan after years of tension linked to the countries’ bitter wartime legacy.
The North-east Asian neighbours have yet to resolve disputes over the Japanese military’s use of Korean sex slaves before and during the second world war. They are also at loggerheads over compensation for Korean labourers forcibly brought to Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, and competing claims to the Takeshima islands, known as Dokdo by Koreans.
In what is being seen as a sign of a possible thaw in relations, Yoon sent a delegation to Tokyo last month, while Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, was among 300 foreign guests at his swearing-in ceremony.
Agencies contributed reporting.