Foreign Policy

Biden's victory is each good and dangerous information for the South Korean president

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP's round-the-clock coverage of the incoming US election results with brief dispatches from correspondents and analysts from around the world. The America Votes page is free to all readers.

SEOUL – The first thing South Korean President Moon Jae-in tweeted on Sunday was diplomatic congratulations to the newly elected US President Joe Biden.

“Congratulations to @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Our alliance is strong and the bond between our two countries is absolutely solid. I am very much looking forward to working with you on our common values. I have great expectations of advancing and opening up the future development of our bilateral relations, ”the tweets read.

"Katchi kapshida!" he added what is the official slogan for the South Korean-American Alliance and Korean for "Let's go together!" is.

And Moon has a lot going for it when it comes to Biden administration. The former vice president is with South Koreans, who, according to Gallup Korea, are much more popular than President Donald Trump prefers Biden 59 to 16 percent for Trump. And Biden would likely de-escalate the ongoing dispute over the common cost of hosting US troops in Korea.

"While there is no specific indication of where Biden is relying on this issue, it is likely that they will push for a quick and fair resolution – likely in conjunction with South Korea's final offer," said Jenny Town, a Stimson official Center and the deputy director of 38 north, a North Korea observation website.

Resolving this dispute would remove a source of bilateral sharpness and secure funding for Korean workers on leave at US bases – a great boon for Moon.

Where the headache might be coming from is Biden's stance on North Korea. He ruled out reaching Pyongyang with open arms in the same open-arms fashion that the Trump administration pursued and will likely have enough domestic and foreign policy challenges to deal with early in his term.

“The biggest concern is if North Korea is not high on Biden's priority list, and this type of news is not delivered early, appropriately and convincingly, it leaves room for North Korea to guess what a Biden government will do and Test his determination early on in a likely counterproductive way, ”Town said.

Biden has said that he will not meet Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, without conditions like denuclearization. The fear here is that the United States may revert to former President Barack Obama's approach of "strategic patience" with North Korea. The Trump administration has managed to set up summits and fuel hopes of progress on inter-Korean relations, but it has not derailed North Korea's weapons program. That fall, the country revealed its largest and newest missile – one that can hit the continental United States.

But because so much of Moon's political project involves rapprochement and commitment to the North, he would not be interested in returning to the days of strategic patience.

"Moon's almost sole focus on North-South relations has made him and his party dependent on their success, which has not proved sustainable without international cooperation," said Town.

Kim has not yet commented on the US election results, and there is speculation as to whether or not North Korea will test the big new missiles. However, since the North has no interest in denuclearization, there is little prospect of further meetings between Pyongyang and Washington in the near future.

That could give the South a leading role in improving relations – or simply means getting back to the waiting game. As Moon congratulates Biden and stresses the alliance, he prepares for everything from early North Korean provocations to US silence.

"With Moon's legacy so closely tied to North-South relationships, the process must continue," Town said.

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