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South Korea's Diplomatic Options Under Moon
Published August 13, 2018
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During his first year as president, Moon Jae-in faced a challenging strategic environment and divergent advice on how to manage it. He could cater to his progressive base and act in accord with his political lineage by renewing the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea. Alternatively, he could strive for consensus at home by reconciling the differences with conservatives in foreign policy. In diplomacy with the great powers, he also had important choices to make. He could double down on the U.S. alliance or, going further, he could agree to trilateralism with Japan. Yet, he also could be tempted by the option of balancing dependence on the United States with a closer relationship with China. Impacting all of his choices was the question of how Kim Jong-un would focus in 2018, shifting from provocations aimed at military leverage to diplomacy linked to his outlook on Moon’s policies. In the following five chapters authors explore each of these options. This introduction reviews some of their findings and points to linkages among them as part of an overall assessment of how Moon has navigated among the choices he was facing.

The following chapters set forth the options that Moon Jae-in has before him. Chapter 1 by David Straub seeks to grasp the appeal of a renewed Sunshine Policy to Moon, while spelling out the implications of taking that route, warning of a breach in trust with the United States if not a temporary welcome from Donald Trump eager for a Nobel Peace Prize. Leif Eric-Easley’s analysis in Chapter 2 assesses the prospects of Moon doubling down on the ROK alliance with the United States and argues that, so far, trust between allies has been sustained, including in 2018 as diplomacy intensified with summitry on the agenda. In Chapter 3 John Delury examines the domestic political environment, pointing to the impact of the Candlelight movement, which offers opportunities for Moon as well as constraints on policies he might adopt. Chung Jae Ho in Chapter 4 explores Sino-ROK relations and the prospects of Moon drawing closer to China with consequences for relations with the United States. A fifth chapter by Sheila Smith focuses on Japan-ROK relations, newly strained by different approaches to diplomacy with Kim Jong-un. Each chapter views Moon’s policies and proclivities in the context of the dynamics of bilateral ties, while following closely what has been happening to those ties during the tumultuous course of Moon’s first year in office, notably in the first third of 2018 as diplomacy intensified.

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