What remains of the devastated ruling party hopes for salvation through the candidacy of former UN Secretary General Ban Ki‐moon. After massive rallies against Park even some ruling party parliamentarians voted for her impeachment. However, the opposition has the advantage, especially the sooner the vote is held.
There are plenty of contenders on the left. On the rise is Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae‐myung, who has gained notoriety pushing for Park’s ouster. Lee styles himself as the Korean Bernie Sanders, railing against economic inequality and corporate privilege.
Of greater interest to Washington, however, is Lee’s perspective on security issues. The Republic of Korea’s left long has had a love/hate relationship with America. Washington’s support for the military dictatorships of Park’s father, Park Chung‐hee, and Chun Doo‐hwan, who emerged after Park pere’s assassination, soured many South Koreans on the alliance. Nevertheless, fear of North Korea and desire to avoid having to bear the full cost of defending against the North led even Presidents Kim Dae‐jung and Roh Moo‐hyun to preserve the relationship. Similarly, the main opposition party’s formal leader and current presumptive presidential nominee Moon Jae‐in supports the status quo with the U.S.
Not Lee, however. He has a very different perspective on security issues, and sharply antagonistic opinions as to America’s role. He recently complained that U.S.-ROK ties had “degenerated into a subordinate relationship where we give whatever amounts of money they ask us to give.” Instead, he argued, “The U.S. should be begging us for the defense of East Asia.” He suggested defenestrating America’s nearly 29,000 troops, renegotiating the bilateral free trade agreement, and talking with North Korea’s Kim Jong‐un.
Ironically, the incoming Trump administration might be sympathetic to all of these policies, though perhaps for different reasons than Lee. President‐elect Donald Trump appears to be a committed protectionist and views virtually any agreement reducing any U.S. trade barriers as unfair to America; presumably he believes this applies to South Korea. He might be happy to tear up the FTA, even though Americans would pay more for imports and sell fewer exports, an economically painful combination.