Special Forum

40 days into his presidency, Moon Jae-in appointed the nation’s first female foreign minister. However, fine-tuning for policy coherence and clarity on some key foreign policy items among his advisors has yet to happen. The main discord is not about national interests, but more ideological and philosophical, regarding South Korea’s position in the ROK-US alliance matrix and also the question of how to relate to North Korea, both an existential “adversary” and an estranged “brother.” The issue became pronounced when a key advisor, Moon Chung-in, explained Moon’s policy to an international audience in Washington DC, triggering confusion. After two day’s silence, the Blue House brushed aside his remarks, characterizing them as a “personal view.” As Moon Jae-in prepares for his first summit with President Trump, the debate may intensify within his team of advisors, perhaps more under the table. This “in-house” task is not an insignificant challenge compared to other pending issues South Korea faces. Overall, Moon’s presidency may produce friction with the ROK’s traditional ally over an array of items, including divergent strategies on dealing with Pyongyang, the FTA, and cost-sharing in hosting the American military in South Korea, including the THAAD installation.

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