The political scandal surrounding Park Geun-hye will prove to have more than just domestic impacts; crucial foreign policy agreements and strategies are threatened by Park’s impeachment.
The political paralysis that has resulted due to Park’s impeachment but her reluctance to let go until the Constitutional Court decides her fate has left the future of the trilateral alliance between Korea, the US, and Japan in doubt. For example, the comfort women agreement made with Japan last year, which was open to much opposition from potential presidential contenders and opposition leaders, may not be implemented in the next administration. Park’s impeachment may lead to deteriorating relations between the two nations should the next administration follow popular agreement and reject the deal.
Another contentious foreign policy agreement that may hang in the balance is the massively unpopular THAAD program, which has also seen intense opposition from neighboring China. Once Park leaves the office in political limbo, it is entirely imaginable that China takes the opportunity to compel Korea to reverse its decision. Another possible scenario is that an opposition politician who is elected to the presidency may act on popular support to scrap the THAAD deal. Both scenarios could threaten the US-Korea bilateral alliance, especially with President Donald Trump, a nationalist and isolationist, looking for opportunities to reduce American assistance to the area.
With North Korea’s increasingly brazen attempts to establish its military presence in East Asia, the most recent case being the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam in Malaysia by VX nerve agent, a deadly weapon of mass destruction, South Korea’s political limbo may be disastrous for keeping its Northern neighbor in check. For decades, the trilateral alliance has been crucial to keeping Chinese and North Korean ambitions restrained in the area.
Another policy that may threaten Korea-Japan relations is the General Security of Military Information Agreement, which encourages military intelligence cooperation between the two nations. This policy is massively unpopular in Korea as well due to Japan’s military history in the Korean peninsula, and with Park’s departure may not be enforced at all.
Although it is justifiable for Koreans to support Park’s impeachment considering the recent Choi Soon-sil scandal, it is also essential that they consider the potential foreign policy impacts that may result due to the impeachment. The trilateral alliance hangs in balance. To reduce the uncertainty that may impede South Korea’s ability to deal with the North, Park should resign immediately and the next President would do well to consider the full implications of the preceding agreements rather than acting only on political impulses.