05/10/2022, 15.44
SOUTH KOREA
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Yoon Suk-yeol sworn in as North Korea tops agenda

by Guido Alberto Casanova

In his inaugural speech, President Yoon pledges to focus on economic growth to solve the country's problems. However, South Korea’s National Assembly has not yet confirmed conservative Han Duck-soo as prime minister.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – Yoon Suk-yeol took the oath of office this morning as President of South Korea.

At the end of his inaugural speech, the conservative leader said: “I solemnly pledge today that I will do my utmost to elevate Korea into a country that truly belongs to the people. A country based on the pillars of freedom, human rights, fairness and solidarity,” he said in.

During the swearing-in ceremony, Yoon stressed the inalienable and universal value of freedom and, in what appeared to be an implicit criticism of the previous democratic administration, called for action to overcome social polarisation, seen as undermining the country’s democratic foundations.

The new president stressed that economic growth was the key to solving the many problems facing the country today, centring this renaissance on scientific progress and technological innovation.

However far-reaching the projects the new president has in mind for the country, they run up against the many short-term challenges it faces. First and foremost, North Korea, which “welcomed” the new president by testing weapons.

Since the start of the year, the communist North has tested 14 missiles, two last week alone, further freezing intra-Korean relations already severely tested by the pandemic.

During the election campaign, Yoon showed less flexibility towards the North than his predecessor.

Three days ago, he gave an interview to the Voice of America. In it, he stepped away from the approach of his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, noting that talks with the North would only make sense if they led to concrete action forward denuclearisation or to economic cooperation.

If North Korea carries another nuclear test, as several observers expect, Yoon will soon find himself in the middle of a new international crisis right at the start of his term in office.

Inflation is another issue the new president has to tackle with great urgency. The latest monthly report indicates that consumer prices went up by 4.8 per cent in April, the fastest increase in 13 years.

Rising energy costs due to the war in Ukraine are the driving factor, with petrol up by 28.5 per cent and diesel by 42.4 per cent. Utilities are also up with electricity increasing by 11 per cent.

Inflation risks aggravating social tensions in a country like South Korea where income inequality is already one of the worst among OECD countries. High inflation can only but widen the social divide.

According to OECD data, 16.7 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, 43.4 per cent among the elderly.

Responding to the central bank’s decision to raise interest rates, Yoon said he was in favour, but added that steps must be taken to cushion its negative effects. The bank’s new governor was appointed a few weeks ago by then outgoing President Moon.

Now Yoon has his work cut out. For one, the man picked by the conservative People Power Party (PPP) to be prime minister, Han Duck-soo, has not yet been confirmed by South Korea’s National Assembly.

The Democratic Party (DP) has subjected him to close scrutiny and prevented him from taking office, following certain controversial appointments, most notably that of Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon who openly opposes the reform of the justice system recently voted by the National Assembly.

For now, Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho, who has already been confirmed in a parliamentary hearing, is the acting prime minister, but the confrontation between the PPP and the DP over the new administration promises to be extremely intense.

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