South Korea’s demo­cratic act

With a bel­li­cose North, Seoul faces a mo­ment of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and must not be in­tim­i­dated.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

THE RE­MOVAL of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye must be seen as a tes­ta­ment to South Korea’s young democ­racy. For all the dis­rup­tion and dif­fi­culty, the na­tion has man­aged to per­form one of the most tricky ma­neu­vers in a demo­cratic sys­tem: un­der­tak­ing the trans­fer of power un­der the rule of law at a time of ex­treme duress. The agility to make the hard de­ci­sions and hand off the ba­ton with­out a bloody coup is a sign of strength that dis­tin­guishes democ­racy from dic­ta­tor­ship. Much credit goes to the spirit of non­vi­o­lent protest that filled the months-long street demon­stra­tions.

At the same time, the whole af­fair fur­ther ex­posed the seamy col­lu­sion be­tween the chae­bol con­glom­er­ates and po­lit­i­cal power. Ms. Park was re­moved from of­fice when the Con­sti­tu­tional Court up­held a par­lia­men­tary vote to im­peach her for cor­rup­tion. The Post’s Anna Fi­field re­ports that the court found she had helped her friend Choi Soon-sil ex­tract bribes from South Korean con­glom­er­ates, in­clud­ing Sam­sung; per­son­ally asked big busi­ness for do­na­tions; leaked con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments to Choi; tried to cover up her wrong­do­ing; and lied about it. South Korea must clean up this cor­rup­tion to reestab­lish trust in gov­ern­ment.

But much sooner, the coun­try faces se­ri­ous ex­ter­nal chal­lenges. Ms. Park took an un­flinch­ing stand to­ward Kim Jong Un’s dan­ger­ous and un­pre­dictable regime in North Korea. The ar­rival last week in South Korea of the first wave of equip­ment to in­stall a U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tem known as Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense, or THAAD, and on­go­ing “Foal Eagle” joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with the United States are prod­ucts of this de­ter­mined and sound ap­proach. Now, Seoul faces a mo­ment of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and must not be in­tim­i­dated. The North has at­tempted to crudely ex­ploit the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, in­clud­ing the launch last week of a vol­ley of four mis­siles to­ward Ja­pan.

China has also be­haved thug­gishly, en­cour­ag­ing boy­cotts of South Korean busi­nesses to protest the mis­sile de­fense de­ploy­ment. Bei­jing’s lat­est diplo­matic pro­posal, that North Korea freeze its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams in ex­change for a U.S. halt to joint ex­er­cises with the South, was a ris­i­ble non­starter that once again called into ques­tion whether China can ever be a se­ri­ous brake on the reck­less and dan­ger­ous Mr. Kim.

In the up­com­ing South Korean elec­tions, polls show a lead­ing can­di­date is Moon Jae-in, a pro­gres­sive pro­po­nent of the “sunshine pol­icy” of en­gage­ment with North Korea. The strat­egy is meant to ease ten­sion and open up the closed state, but this hardly seems like the right time for it. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who trav­els to Ja­pan, South Korea and China this week, should use his trip to drive home to South Korea the wis­dom of stand­ing firm against pres­sure from the North and from China, while strongly re­as­sur­ing Seoul of the U.S. com­mit­ment to its se­cu­rity. Mr. Tiller­son has made his task that much harder with a fool­ish de­ci­sion to ex­clude the me­dia from his trav­el­ing party, break­ing with decades of prece­dent. This is no time for muf­fled voices.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.