Expect Olympics to Play Part in South Korean Foreign Policy

(ATR) PyeongChang may not be cloudy, but the area may get a dose of “sunshine” security experts say.

(ATR) PyeongChang may not be cloudy, but the area may get a dose of "sunshine" security experts tell Around the Rings.

After a snap election, South Korea elected Jae In Moon as its next President for a five-year term. Moon, from the country’s Democratic Party, was elected from a large, hastily assembled field put together after the impeachment of Geun Hye Park.

Park was later arrested and jailed for her role in the corruption scandal, and her trial began on May 2. Full proceedings, according to AFP, were expected to begin two weeks after its start.

Moon represents a return to left-leaning rule for South Korea, after a decade of conservative presidents. Regardless of his political affiliation, PyeongChang 2018 spokesperson Nancy Park offered congratulations to the new president. Park also expressed optimism about a future working relationship between the Games’ organizers and a new government.

"The new government has already expressed its commitment to the Olympic Games and we look forward to meeting the new cabinet in due course," Park said. "We will be working closely with them to ensure the Games are a great success."

Moon is best known for his work as a human rights lawyer and serving as chief of staff during the Moo Hyun Roh presidency. Roh, another left-leaning president, continued South Korea’s "Sunshine Policy" toward North Korea after his election in 2003. The policy, which began in 1998 and lasted for about a decade, was known for its leniency towards the North Korean regime, in hopes for economic integration and cooperation. It was also criticized for its idealism and the alienation it caused with Seoul's longtime ally the United States.

Eleonora Rossi, a researcher at the Korean Peninsula project for the Institute for Security & Development Policy in Stockholm, says PyeongChang 2018 is a "good opportunity for Moon to promote dialogue with North Korea." The Games could provide a chance to showcase "sports democracy," a policy that North Korean leader Jong Un Kim has expressed openness to.

"Proceeding with baby steps, such as sports diplomacy, could be a viable and relatively easy option for Moon, possibly favoring and leading to further engagement," Rossi said to Around the Rings. "On the other hand, the effectiveness and feasibility of such a strategy clearly also depends on how North Korea will behave in the next months, and to what extent it will use provocative acts such as missile and nuclear tests."

PyeongChang 2018 organizers have embraced the idea of allowing North Korean athletes who qualify for the Games to participate. PyeongChang 2018 President Hee Beom Lee has said that all North Koreans who "promoted peace," will be allowed at the Games, and a PyeongChang spokesperson told ATRthat even if a conflict breaks out "[the Games] will welcome all athletes who qualify from any country."

As a new government is forming Moon will have to balance a return to the Sunshine Policy with keeping the military alliance with the United States on solid footing. Rossi’s colleague Dr. Sangsoo Lee told ATR that sports diplomacy could calm tensions on the Korean peninsula, but the Games are scheduled during annual U.S.-South Korean joint military tests.

Rossi says that Moon has signaled a pragmatic approach to the "Sunshine Policy" and will work closely with the United States to accomplish this.

"What should be expected is not a radical change in South Korea’s foreign policy, but certainly a more moderate approach compared to the previous administration," Rossi said. "Moon will probably continue to cooperate with the United States, and despite trying to increase engagement with North Korea, he will not do so without getting some security guarantees in return."

Written by Aaron Bauer

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