By Simone Chun | April 25, 2023
South Korea’s far-right President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was elected by a narrow margin of 0.7% last year, is in Washington, D.C. this week for a state visit at the invitation of President Biden.
According to The New England Korea Peace Campaign, Boston Candlelight Action Committee, and Massachusetts Peace Action which are preparing to hold a protest on Friday, April 28th in Cambridge, MA during Yoon’s visit to Harvard, “Since entering office, Yoon’s right-wing administration has expanded costly and provocative US-ROK military exercises, heightened tensions with North Korea, rolled back workers’ rights, threatened to abolish the ministry of gender equality, and has taken many other actions to undermine struggles for peace and justice in South Korea”.
Indeed, backed by Washington, President Yoon has pursued extreme hawkish policies directly against South Korea’s national interests.
Yoon’s state visit comes at a time when South Korea is experiencing unprecedented crises on the political, economic and national security fronts as a consequence of the Biden Administration’s unrelenting pressure on South Korea to join the US anti-China bloc.
Moreover, domestically, Yoon has installed a new National Security State, which experts refer to as the “republic of prosecution.”
His administration is engaging in a massive political witch-hunt of his opponents, arresting key top officials of the previous Moon administration, and targeting the opposition Democratic Party and progressive political leaders.
Yoon is using South Korea’s national-security laws and red-baiting rhetoric to crack down on unions and those who are working for peace and unification.
For example, on January 28 of this year, Jeong Yu-JIn, Director of Education of the Gyongnam Progressive Alliance and a mother of two, was arrested on charges of being a North Korean spy, an allegation she has steadfastly denied. Having been arrested, detained, and forced to make a false confession without access to an attorney, she engaged in a 40-day hunger strike in detention, which she only ended after 300 Koreans joined her hunger strike in solidarity. Although the hunger strike severely harmed her health, she remains steadfast and is preparing for her trial, with her greatest fear being that her two children remain without the care of their mother indefinitely.
Yoon’s eagerness to prove his administration’s worth as a linchpin in Washingtont's new Cold War in Asia means that there will be more repression and prosecution such as this.
Washington’s backing of a repressive political regime under an extreme far-right president whose inexperience in foreign policy and disregard for political norms is ushering in a new era of domestic and international uncertainty and risk for South Korea.
Washington’s policies run directly counter to the sentiments of the majority of South Koreans, who strongly support balanced foreign relations with Russia and China, meaningful reconciliation with Japan, and peace with North Korea.
According to recent polls, 80% of Koreans oppose the degree to which Yoon has capitulated to Washington’s imposition of its anti-China policy on South Korea.
Washington’s endorsement of Yoon and its support for his new National Security State directly contravenes the majority of South Korean public opinion.
According to recent figures, the Yoon administration has an abysmal 19% public approval rating.
While the purpose of Yoon’s state visit is to prove his relevance to US imperial ambitions in Asia, Washington’s increasingly heavy-handed management of its one-sided relationship with South Korea is causing it to lose the battle for the hearts and minds among the South Korean public.
Simone Chun is a researcher and activist focusing on inter-Korean relations and U.S. foreign policy in the Korean Peninsula. She has served as an assistant professor at Suffolk University, a lecturer at Northeast University and an associate in research at Harvard University’s Korea Institute. She is on the Korea Policy Institute Board of Directors, and serves on the advisory board for CODEPINK. She can be found on Twitter at @simonechun.