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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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South Korea's new president

May 10, 2017

Moon Jae-in was sworn in as the 19th president of South Korea.

"I solemnly swear before the people that I will sincerely fulfill my duties as president."

The National Election Commission says the liberal leader of the Democratic Party received 41% of the vote.

The next closest candidate was conservative Hong Joon-pyo, followed by centrist Ahn Cheol-soo.

Moon took back power after almost a decade of conservative rule. He promises to reform the economy and tackle the issue of corruption, but, what is grabbing global attention most is his position towards the country’s neighbor, North Korea.

Unlike the previous conservative government that maintained a tough stance against the North’s missile and nuclear developments, he favors dialogue with Pyongyang’s leader. This is a big change.

South Koreans have expressed their hopes for the new president.

"We have been disappointed with politics so I want the new president to give us hope."

"He knows the people's pain and struggles very well. I believe he will be able to hear our voices."

As for Moon's background, he grew up poor. He was heavily involved in democratic protests as a student and was jailed in the 1970s for protesting against the country's dictatorship.

He became a human rights lawyer and worked as the chief of staff for South Korea's last liberal President, Roh Moo-hyun.

He first ran for president 5 years ago, but lost to Park Geun-hye in a close race.

During the corruption scandal that plagued South Korea for months, he became a vocal critic of Park and her supporters.

As for the key issues, Moon is taking a conciliatory approach to North Korea and is promoting cooperation to denuclearize the Peninsula.

On Wednesday, Moon said he will start working right away on the pressing security threat posed by North Korea.

"For peace on the Korean Peninsula, if necessary, I'll fly to Washington, Beijing, or Tokyo under the right conditions. I will even fly to Pyongyang, if conditions are right. I will do everything possible to help peace take root on the Korean Peninsula."

Countries around the world are reacting to Moon Jae-in becoming the new president of South Korea.

In Washington, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said the US hopes to work with Moon to strengthen ties between the 2 countries.

"I think the president looks forward to meeting with him and talking about our shared interests."

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he hopes to cooperate with South Korea's new president in dealing with North Korea.

"South Korea is Japan's most important neighbor, and it shares strategic interests with us. We hope to work closely on issues regarding North Korea, and develop future-oriented relations with Seoul."

In Beijing, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that President Xi Jinping sent Moon a message of congratulations. It quotes Xi as saying China attaches great importance to its relations with South Korea.

Newsroom Tokyo anchor Sho Beppu is joined by Kim Chang-su from the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. Dr Kim is one of the leading South Korean experts on diplomacy.

Beppu: We saw a very tough election campaign between the liberals and conservatives. What do you think was the biggest factor that led to the victory of the liberal camp this time?

Kim: The major reason behind Moon's victory was, as he said in his acceptance speech last night here on the plaza, it was public demand, South Korea's strong desire for power. The second one was he has a very strong party structure with all the professional politicians, and a lot of staff members, and wide variety of supporters from the South Korean society. The third one was personality. He is a very accommodating personality, he's very open-minded, and he has a reputation as a human rights lawyer, that's why he got a wide swath of support from all across the country. I think these are the primary reasons why he got elected as president of Korea yesterday.

Beppu: Do you think this desire for change extended also to the domain of the country's diplomatic direction?

Kim: Sure, I think so, because people are looking for a kind of change, from all these old habits. We have to bring a new factor in South Korea, including domestic politics, job creation, and diplomacy with the US and with North Korea and Japan and China as well. So this is going to bring a new change in our society as a whole -- diplomacy and economics. It's bringing a new impetus to our society.

Beppu: Now, you mentioned anti-Park sentiments and that the new president talked about changing his predecessor's diplomatic policies. Before we go into detail about that, let’s take a look at how former President, Park Guen-hye, dealt with the country’s diplomatic challenges.

In 2013, Park met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing only months after she took office.

Park was the first South Korean president to choose China over Japan for her second summit meeting after the United States.

"President Xi and I agree that we will create a new bilateral relationship, a new Korean Peninsula and a new northeast Asia in these times of change," Park said back in 2013.

Meanwhile, Park continued to refuse to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because of differences over historical interpretations.

At the same time, anti-Japanese demonstrations were held in South Korea.

Two years later, Park was back in Beijing, this time to attend a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

Her visits helped strengthen ties between the 2 countries but led to a cooling of relations with the United States and Japan.

But provocative moves by China's ally, North Korea, would change the balance.

In 2016, North Korea launched ballistic missiles and conducted 2 nuclear tests.

Park maintained a tough stance against the North. She decided to allow the US to deploy its advanced missile system THAAD to reinforce her country's security.

The Japanese government welcomed the deployment. It led to the restoration of national security cooperation with the United States and Japan.

But China fiercely protested the move. Chinese officials say the missile system could be used to monitor the Chinese military. And President Xi says it would destabilize the region and could intensify disputes.

In 2015, South Korea and Japan signed a historic agreement over the issue of those referred to as "comfort women." The agreement said the 2 sides had resolved the matter "definitely and irreversibly."

But the ensuing close feelings wouldn't last long. A civic group in the southeastern city of Busan unveiled a statue as a symbol to the women.

The Japanese government recalled its top diplomats from South Korea to protest the installation.

Park's impeachment has left a cloud of uncertainty over her country's diplomacy. But one thing remains clear. Public opinion in South Korea is growing to scrap the agreement covering the comfort women issue.

Beppu: Moon is pro-dialogue with Pyongyang. What should we expect from him?

Kim: He's known as pro-dialogue. There was a kind of deadlock in relations with Pyongyang for almost 10 years, so he's looking for a kind of breakthrough but it depends on how Pyongyang will react to this proposal. It's a good proposal, but it's based on our strong alliance with the US. Unless we have a very good robust alliance with the US, it doesn't make any sense to engage with North Korea. But as we are very happy that Mr. Trump has proposed a maximum pressure and engagement, that is after putting a lot of diplomatic and security sanctions, and pressure on North Korea, if they accept our offer, then we are going to begin to engage with North Korea -- that means, kind of broaden the way for a further relationship with North Korea and also potential accommodation and mutual exchange with North Korea and eventually.

Beppu: For example, what kind of things could happen?

Kim: Beginning with the first one, instead of a kind of eventual denuclearization, we have to be satisfied with a freezing of nuclear capabilities at the moment and then if North Korea agrees to the idea -- we'll exchange ideas -- move toward eventual denuclearization of North Korean capability, because we have to persuade them that this is in your national interest to finally dismantle all your military, nuclear and missile capabilities.

Beppu: You said that this pro-dialogue approach may be a gradual step, it would not contradict necessarily with the US position that all options are on the table including the possible use of military force. How can these two be together?

Kim: I don't see contradiction on this part because the US also proposed this kind of dialogue card on the table as we did this time. So even though it may sound like there's some contradiction, as long as we're making a very strong alliance with the US, we can build on our relationship with Pyongyang based on this strong alliance with the US. So it may sound contradictory, but actually we will work very closer to Washington to how we're going to commit to these 2 contradictory-sounding proposals on North Korea. We are wise enough; we have experience to deal with these kinds of diplomatic cards vis-a-vis North Korea.

Beppu: And, talking about the new president's relationship with Beijing, we do know that there are souring relations between South Korea and China, particularly with the issue of THAAD. How do you think the new president will deal with Beijing?

Kim: In his pledge that he's going to review our THAAD deployments for good reasons, because there was some mistake, and there was some secrecy involved in this situation so we are going to make much more clear why we need the deployment of THAAD in the first place, and how we are going to deal with North Korean threats. This is actually very defensive in nature, so we are going to probably invite the Chinese to come and watch these systems -- this is not against you, this is just to defend against North Korean threats -- so once a kind of compromise is made, then China will hopefully come to the negotiating table and talk about our relationship. There should be no more worsening relations between Beijing and Seoul. We have spent too much time on this bad or retaliatory from Beijing, so it may be time for a kind of breakthrough, how we're going to stop worsening relations between the two good friends.

Beppu: Now, finally, about the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo. Everyone agrees that these 2 countries are very important neighbors. How do you think the new Korean president can avoid the issue for example, of those referred to as comfort women, from becoming a single issue that would block all the other important things? Naturally, Tokyo would be disappointed to hear that Moon would want to renegotiate a deal that was done between Tokyo and Seoul's previous government.

Kim: It is very difficult, very complicated as a matter of fact, because it was a deal between the previous government of Park Geun-hye, and now we have a new government in Seoul. So it's quite natural for the new government to at least propose that we have to reconsider the agreements made between Seoul and Tokyo 2 years ago, and I think Tokyo will understand why we will come up with a different idea, because there is a lot of people who really demand a review of the agreements, and if we come up with a better idea, because this is all about our old histories, because there are a lot of people who became the victim of the colonial Japanese rule. So this is something for a brighter future of our 2 countries. We should sit down together and talk about whether there is room for revision of the agreements, otherwise we have to come up with a better way to actually implement all the agreements step by step.

South Korea has once again proved to be one of the most stable democracies in Asia with its peaceful transition of power.

It's natural for the new government to change direction from the previous governments' policies and it's very natural for the government to try new policies especially when there's so much uncertainty about which economic or diplomatic policies work.

A change of power yields an opportunity to test new ideas.

However, flexibility should not turn into inconsistency. South Korea has various agreements with the US, Japan, and other countries.

The world will be carefully watching to see how the new president will test his ideas while maintaining the nation's integrity.