Kathleen Stephens, president and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute of America and former US ambassador to South Korea, said the new president of South Korea Yoon Suk-yeol will not “have many honeymoons”.
“I think he said the right thing when he took office, about wanting to see South Korea play a bigger role on the global stage. I think that’s shared across parties in Korea, he meant it. determined to address the challenges facing North Korea and the economy,” Stephens said.
“But I think no one in Korea and … other people around the world are under the illusion of how difficult this is going to be.”
Speaking on ” CNBC “Asian street signs“Following Yoon’s inauguration on Tuesday, Stephens discussed what to expect from Yoon’s leadership when he takes office.
“He is starting the office with what has been [been a] historically low approval ratings before he even took office. She won very very very little by a margin of less than 1% in the election,” she added.
Calling Yoon a “neopolitics”, Stephens said that local politics will be a “huge challenge”.
“He is facing local elections on June 1, where his opponent in the presidential election is running for a congressional seat… [which] dominated by the other party. “
She was referring to Lee Jae-myung, Yoon’s rival from the Democratic Party. Yoon beat Lee with 48.6% of votes.
Yoon has neither political experience nor foreign policy experience, Stephens said.
“He was a prosecutor and lawyer all his life. What he did was recruit a team … many of them worked for the former conservative president Lee Myung-bak,” she said. said more.
“I think what we’re going to see is a tougher rhetoric towards North Korea … a stronger attempt to have activities like drills to show deterrence to North Korea, enhance South Korea’s military capabilities, to make sure the Korea-U.S. security alliance is very, very strong.”
However, Stephens said that Yoon will look for opportunities to open up “space for dialogue” with North Korea, which has been “true for previous conservative presidents.”
Other tasks Yoon faces include managing “the difficult relationship with China” while developing closer ties with the United States, she added.
Tom Rafferty, regional director for Asia at The Economist Intelligence Unit, previously told CNBC that Yoon has signaled that he would pursue closer relationships with USA. However, that could affect Seoul’s relationship with China, South Korea’s biggest export market.
With this “geopolitical current” in mind, Stephens says Yoon’s ability to maneuver is rather small, especially since he “has not been tested as a leader.”
“But at the same time, there was a kind of strong bipartisan-based approach that worked [South] Korea for a long time. “
US President Joe Biden will visit Korea and meet Yoon for the first time on May 21. Stephens says it’s a “very gracious and gracious sign.”
“The President of the United States and the Washington establishment recognize that [South] South Korea is a democracy … and that alliance overcomes hope, divides parties,” she added.
“This will be our first chance to see how President Yoon really operates in an international environment.”
Biden has previously expressed urgency passed the Bipartisan Innovation Act, a multi-billion dollar investment in the US semiconductor industry. That makes the meeting “even more important,” says Stephens, that Korea is an important country in the world in industry.
“I think that’s going to be an important element in their discussion of how the United States and South Korea … can work together for secure technology, secure supply chain,” she added.