Upon being asked about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system during a radio interview on May 17, the newly elected floor leader of the liberal Minjoo Party of Korea, Woo Won-shik, answered, “We have to look into issues including the possibility of sending back THAAD, if it has not properly undergone domestic legal procedures.” This statement directly opposes or withdraws from the stance of “strategic ambiguity” that the former floor leader Woo Sang-ho and the liberal party maintained during the presidential election. Furthermore, Woo made it clear that the deployment of the THAAD requires parliamentary approval.
Rep. Woo has since toned down his statement saying, “[W]e should deal with the case prudently, taking the lives and safety of our people into consideration,” as his position doesn’t speak for the rest of the liberal party. However, it was inappropriate for the leader of the ruling party to make such a remark that could drastically change the course of the nation’s security policy, especially at a time when the Korean peninsula is facing increasing tensions following North Korea’s ballistic missile provocation that took place shortly after the inauguration of South Korea’s new president. The same day, Hong Seok-hyun, an ambassador to Washington, had also made a comment that doesn’t line up with Woo’s statement. “The whole process [of deploying the THAAD] was not democratic. So I think President Moon, when he was campaigning, made a pledge that [the THAAD issue] should be revisited,” Hong said. It is hard to determine for now what stance the ruling party is taking on the THAAD.
The current issue the Moon Jae-in administration is tackling is restraining North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations and normalizing diplomatic relations with our four neighboring nations. China and South Korea, both of whom are maintaining a lukewarm stance on North Korea sanctions, are up to their necks in diplomatic issues, one being the United States’ push for a pre-emptive strike that can create a disaster for South Korea. North Korea’s unpredictability is not helping either, as it continues provocations with ballistic missile tests even in the face of our new South Korean government that supports dialogue. This is the reason South Koreans are expressing both hope and concern over the ability of the new government to resolve security issues.
In the recent presidential election, President Moon emphasized the importance of inter-Korean dialogue and resolving diplomatic issues with neighboring nations. It is hence unwarranted for the new government to make such statements that could obstruct the nation’s path to that diplomatic solution. National security is not just a part of the regime’s political agenda, but a question of survival of the nation and its people. The members of the ruling party should take greater care in making security statements.