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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 10)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 09:43 August 10, 2019

Independent foreign policy
Crucial tests lie ahead for Korea-US alliance

President Moon Jae-in conducted a major Cabinet shake-up replacing eight ministers and minister-level officials, Friday. He also picked new people for three key posts, including Lee Soo-hyuck, a diplomat-turned-lawmaker, as the country's new ambassador to the United States.

While much of the media attention was on the outspoken Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk, a former senior presidential secretary on civil affairs who is spearheading the prosecution reform, there were also noticeable features that can show how Moon will shape his foreign and North Korea policy in the coming months.

The reshuffle coincided with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper's South Korea visit, which came amid multiple challenges to the alliance. Most of all, South Korea's consideration of discarding the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact, over the Seoul-Tokyo trade row is creating jitters in Washington. Given it is a crucial part of America's regional security strategy presumably aimed at China, Seoul's pullout will damage Washington's strategic interests. This can lead to efforts to redefine the alliance. For South Korea, it is the beginning of a whole new story.

With the reshuffle, Moon will at least have more people around him with challenging views toward national security as well as the alliance with the U.S.

Moon named Jeong Se-hyun, a former unification minister, as new deputy chair of the National Unification Advisory Council, which Moon chairs. The council is a presidential consultative body with a nationwide organization the President heavily relies on when mapping out North Korea-related policies.

Jeong opined recently in a media interview that South Korea needs to use the GSOMIA as a bargaining tool if Washington keeps demanding more money from Seoul for the stationing of American forces here. Jeong once described John Bolton as a "white cavalry leader in an old Western movie who doesn't feel guilty about killing Native Americans," referring to the role he played in the breakdown of a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam.

As unification minister, Jeong helped boost the "Sunshine Policy" of engaging North Korea through inter-Korean economic and tourism projects under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. Jeong has been a key adviser for President Moon on inter-Korean issues along with Moon Chung-in, the special presidential adviser for unification, diplomacy and national security affairs.

Moon Chung-in received an offer reportedly from President Moon to be the next ambassador to Washington, but rejected it, citing "many things to do in Seoul." Instead, President Moon picked Lee Soo-hyuck, a ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmaker who served as the country's first chief negotiator in the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear problem when the talks began in 2003. He also served as the country's ambassador to Germany and a deputy director of the National Intelligence Service during the Roh administration.

At the ruling party, Lee heads the International Committee, which plays an important role in forming the party's stances on security issues. The DPK has urged the government to abandon the GSOMIA since Japan restricted exports of strategic materials to Seoul, citing security problems.

The next few months will be a critical period for South Korea as it is seeking a more independent foreign policy. How it deals with the trade dispute with Japan is highly likely to provide a crucial test for it.

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