Bill Richardson, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted during a discussion Monday in New York City how recent changes in South Korea have impacted an already unstable region.
Richardson has served as a governor of New Mexico, U.S. congressman, and U.N. ambassador. South Korea, and its adversarial neighbor to the north, have been important aspects of his foreign-policy focused political career. He detailed how recent upheaval in South Korean politics has caused further instability.
“Few countries today are more at the center of urgent global security and market trends,” Richardson said during the discussion. “And for President Trump, I believe the first major test of his foreign policy will be the Korean Peninsula. I don’t have to tell you all the strategic importance and tinderbox situation that exists there today.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was elected during a special election May 9. The special election was called in response to former President Park Geun-hye being impeached. Moon has since pledged to reform the government, improve the economy, and open up a dialogue with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
“His pledge for reforms have been well received by South Koreans,” Richardson said. “We have a situation where the dynamics of the region are changing. What’s going to happen with this commitment to open up dialogue with North Korea? What’s going to happen with the South Korean economy? I think it’s too early to judge what’s happening.”
The Emerging Markets Traders Association hosted the discussion to examine the sudden changes in South Korea and the unrest in the surrounding region. The association is dedicated to promoting the orderly development of fair, efficient, and transparent trading markets.
“Last month’s special elections exposed a restless and divided country, eager to make things right as soon as possible,” Richardson said. “Young South Koreans are anxious about their chances for future economic opportunity in a system that seems rigged in favor of elites. At the same time, despite the scandal, the South Korean economy is doing pretty well.”
The special election was called in response to the impeachment of the former president. Park was found to have used her position to illegally influence policy for special interests. The scandal has led some to call for significant reforms. Richardson argues the new president should be careful and remain calm in the face of domestic and international issues.
“I think it’s important for leaders and citizens in both countries, the United States and South Korea, along with the international community, to avoid the temptation to be alarmed and overreact,” Richardson said. “Cool-headed patience is needed more now than ever.”
North Korea is complicated, and there is no guarantee dialogue will help ease tensions between the two nations. Kim Jong-un has been provoking the international community with nuclear missile tests and rhetoric. North Korea is also ripe with human rights abuses against its own citizens. Richardson says Kim Jong-un has been even more adversarial than his father Kim Jong-il.
“No country need to watch and worry about Kim more than South Korea,” Richardson said. “I think President Moon should be commended. He’s already opened the door to direct talks with North Korea to ease tensions and build on the historical national heritage, culture, and kinship that exists despite their decades-long political division.”
Richardson adds the new president will likely focus on domestic issues. North Korea is still a great concern, but he will likely want to address domestic challenges before looking to the decades-long quandary of the country’s northern neighbor.