Seoul frontrunner would oppose US strike on North - the Times

Seoul frontrunner would oppose US strike on North

Moon Jae-in is a former member of the South Korean special forces and human rights lawyer


The man most likely to be the next president of South Korea will block any attempt by President Trump to take unilateral military action against North Korea and will take back command over his armed forces from the United States.

Moon Jae-in, the favourite in next month’s presidential election, will strenuously oppose any American moves to carry out pre-emptive strikes against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes because they could set off “region-wide warfare”, according to a senior adviser. Mr Moon’s determination to “be in the driver’s seat” sets the scene for years of disagreement between Seoul and Washington.

“One thing is pretty clear — we’re not going to allow any military conflict on the Korean Peninsula,” said Choi Jong-kun, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul and an adviser to Mr Moon. “We’re not going to be shocked and awed by any unilateral military action from Washington or Pyongyang. That’s the spirit of the alliance. Allies don’t shock and awe each other.”

Mr Trump has hinted at a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s rapidly advancing weapons of mass destruction. In an interview before his meeting yesterday with President Xi of China, he said that “if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will”.

He will find himself opposed by Mr Moon, 64, a former human rights lawyer and member of the South Korean special forces, who is ahead in polling for the May 9 election.

Professor Choi said. “Should [Mr Moon] get the presidency, his first and foremost job is to persuade Washington any military options would trigger potential damage and landscape change in the security of north-east Asia, which wouldn’t be in American interests.” He added: “He’ll take the position that South Korea’s national security has to be managed by the South Korean government in close co-operation with our US allies. We want to be in the driver’s seat. We want to be responsible for the unfolding of history.”

Since the 1950-1953 Korean War, South Korea has been protected by an alliance which obliges the US to defend it against attack. Under its terms, command over the South Korean military passes to an American four-star general in time of war.

Technically, a South Korean president could not veto a US attack on the North, despite the potential consequences — a full-scale North Korean military retaliation.

If elected, Mr Moon also intends to resume a policy of economic and political engagement with Pyongyang, in contrast to the international sanctions pursued for the past eight years.

Next month’s election is being held seven months early, after the impeachment of the former president, Park Geun-hye. Mr Moon’s only serious rival is the centrist candidate, Ahn Cheol-soo, a former doctor and billionaire businessman.