Opinion | South Korea's worst and weakest President
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol took office last May. In less than a year, his popularity ratings have plunged to a pathetic 28%. His predecessor Moon Jae-in, in stark contrast, left office basking in stratospheric 78% support. These ratings are a true measure of competence and experience or lack thereof.
Yoon was a prosecutor general, with no prior chance to cut his teeth on international politics. Geopolitically, he is wet behind the ears. By his actions and words, he is a wet leader—weak and gaffe-prone. His only cashable political asset is his charming and photogenic wife.
In the past month alone, Yoon has littered his record with a terrible triple jump. He has forgotten his geography, that Korea is located in Asia and must navigate the treacherous relations with China, Russia and Japan. On all three fronts, he has been an unmitigated disaster. He has angered China by declaring before his Western partners that "Taiwan is a global issue." As a newcomer, he craved approval and attention. But he didn't realize that this is an uncrossable red line for China. Just as provocatively, he has gone out on a limb telling the world that he is prepared to send lethal weapons to Ukraine if and when warranted by the war situation, thereby netting another major power to his list of enemies. He did, however, try to cuddle up to two countries: Japan and America. Korea's relations with Japan have always been ticklish and fraught, given the latter's brutal colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. But he blundered with an unsolicited olive branch to the Japanese, saying that he will not accept Japan having to kneel in shame for its atrocities a hundred years ago. This might be music to Japanese ears, but it is a hammer blow to stunned fellow Koreans.
Yoon is currently on a state visit to Washington. It has been rumored that he had burnt the midnight oil trying to memorize his English speech to impress his American hosts. No other foreign leader has tried so hard to curry favor with his US overlord. By angering China on Taiwan and Russia on military aid to Ukraine, he has put himself in Biden's good books, but at what price? He has given away all his bargaining chips before he even set foot in America. His cupboards are bare. He has given America everything it wants, unasked, including Korea's kitchen sink. But does this earn him America's unconditional trust? Quite the contrary. News has just leaked that the US has been spying on its Korean partners. So much for blood brotherhood.
Yoon's background as prosecutor echoes the CV of US Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow former prosecutor. Both are socially and strategically challenged--handicapped by poor people skills, a low likeability factor and non-existent geopolitical awareness. They should have stuck with their original occupation. The presidency or vice presidency is simply a bridge too far. They prove that the Peter Principle is alive and kicking—some people are indeed promoted to the level of their incompetence.
Yoon's foray into Washington is thus doomed. He doesn't seem to know which side of his bread is buttered, forgetting that Korea's core interests remain in Asia. Without China, there can be no stable, long-term peace in the region. His inflammatory statements have poured fuel on the flames, with his ill-timed and ill-considered words disrupting the equilibrium. Even Europeans, at the height of a dangerous war raging in Ukraine, know only too well that the US practices an "America First" policy. Alliances are only partnerships of convenience. Yet Yoon is rashly betting his political fortunes on the roller-coaster of US domestic politics. Besides, America is an ocean away. I feel sorry for Koreans for being cursed with a blundering, bird-brained leader who turns out to be a sell-out artist. He talks like a US puppet and acts like a US puppet and will pay a dear price for being a sniveling puppet. With all his bargaining chips squandered, he goes to Washington, empty-handed. What more can he offer Biden--kimchee or American Pie?