(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on March 16)
Next government should put national interests first in policy review
A local think tank made an absurd argument Monday that foreign and national security policymakers of the current government should do nothing until the presidential election because President Park Geun-hye has been removed.
"The impeachment of Park means the impeachment of all her policies. Bureaucrats she appointed to the unification, foreign affairs and national security portfolios should stop all their activities immediately," Korea Peace Forum, an institute studying Korea’s foreign policy and national security, said in a statement.
Their logic is flawed. The Constitutional Court's impeachment of Park had nothing to do with foreign and security policies of the government.
The institute called for the immediate suspension of the US deployment of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system in Korea. Unless the policymakers follow its call, it said it would seek to hold them responsible.
The statement by the institute also mentioned the names of incumbent foreign and security policymakers. As examples of Park's policy failures, it cited the closure of an industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, and the agreement with Japan to settle all issues regarding former World War II Korean sex slaves for Japanese troops.
If a little known leftist civic group had issued such a statement, it may have been dismissed.
But the institute's membership includes many liberal figures who served as high-ranking officials under the governments of Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Its leadership includes former Unification Ministers Lim Dong-won and Chung Se-hyun.
Chung is co-chairman of another group of former ministers and vice ministers of the two liberal governments, which Moon launched for advice on state affairs last month.
Moon, who formerly headed the liberal opposition Democratic Party of Korea, has emerged as a front-runner in the presidential race.
The institute's statement came after another irrational one by Choo Mi-ae, the chairwoman of the party.
Shortly after the court impeached Park on Friday, she said, "Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn should freeze all misguided foreign and national security policies of the Park government immediately."
Such comments signal changes ahead for foreign and security policies if a candidate of the Democratic Party wins the election less than two months away.
If it takes power, liberal supporters and advisers would likely press the next government to turn conservative foreign and security policies to the left.
However, the next leader should be prudent in assessing the policies pursued by the two consecutive conservative governments.
Abrupt policy changes or a unilateral cancellation of agreements with foreign countries may bring down confidence in Korea.
Slamming existing foreign and security policies as a tactic to get votes would amount to populism. When it comes to national security, candidates should discard political calculations.
Some foreign policies of the Park government might have strained Korea's ties with its neighbors, but some policies are better left intact.
Regarding the decision to host the US' missile shield, which is now being deployed, Democratic Party candidates have said it should be ratified by the parliament or the US should take it back.
Chances appear slim that Korea will be able to offer a compromise to satisfy both the US and China over THAAD. The US military began to deploy the system soon after Korea offered land for it. China strongly opposes the anti-missile battery on Korean soil, retaliating against the country economically.
According to an opinion poll this month, THAAD supporters outnumbered opponents 51.8 percent to 34.7 percent.
As for the agreement with Japan on former wartime sex slaves, the opposition candidates call for the nullification or review of the entire accord.
If the next government changes existing foreign and national security policies, it should put national interests first in evaluating them. It should also be cautious not to make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.