South Korea


Key Challenges

Approval rate declines after disapointments
At the domestic level, the biggest challenge for the Moon administration remains the need to deliver on its numerous campaign promises, particularly as Moon’s party lacks a parliamentary majority. While Moon remains relatively popular, his approval rate has declined as the population has become disappointed with his inability as yet to deliver on key promises regarding reducing social inequality and curbing real-estate speculation. The initiatives that have been implemented, such as the minimum-wage increase and the increase in real-estate taxes, have thus far failed to make Korea a more just society. For this reason, existing initiatives will have to be adapted further, and new measures implemented in order to achieve this goal.
Fulfilling expectations
a difficult task
Given the high expectations, however, it will be difficult for Moon’s administration to fully satisfy the public expectations built up during the years of frustration under the Park Geun-hye government. In many areas, the government seems timid, backtracking quickly when its policy proposals are criticized. It has seemed to count on its success of its North Korea policies, a dangerous tactic given the unpredictable character of the North Korean regime.
Serious external risks
for economy
Though the macroeconomic indicators in South Korea are still not bad, the country’s dependence on exports leaves it vulnerable to global economic volatility and external political conflicts. Several observers have already adjusted their forecast for growth in 2018 downward from 3% to 2.7%. The tide of global trade protectionism, rising interest rates in the United States and the spreading currency crises in emerging economies all pose serious challenges for the South Korean economy. Domestically, the biggest economic challenge is to enhance social mobility, and to improve job conditions for irregular workers and the younger generation. In addition, household debt levels and the continuing speculation in the real-estate market pose major challenges to social cohesion and life satisfaction.
Ecological sustainability
a key challenge
Improving ecological sustainability is a key challenge for the future, as Korea is falling further behind the leaders in the areas of environmental protection and renewable energies. Several long-term tasks remain important, including addressing the challenges posed by an aging society, restructuring the country’s dominant business conglomerates, strengthening SMEs and improving the current low levels of labor productivity.
Long-term relations
with North uncertain
While the threat from North Korea seems to be diminished given the improved relationship, the volatile leadership in the North – as well as the United States – offers no guarantee against sudden reversal. Given the lack of regional institutions and the United States’ increasingly unilateral approach, it will not be easy for President Moon to institutionalize the peninsular peace process progress in the form of a peace treaty and other mechanisms that will be able to stand the test of time. Beyond North Korea, a key challenge for Korea as a G-20 member and as the world’s 7th-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses will be to show more leadership in combatting world poverty and climate change, and in helping to promote a sustainable global governance system.
Sang-young Rhyu, “Negotiations on Denuclearization in North Korea: Laying Out the Scenarios,” EAF Policy Debates, N0.107 (November 6th, 2018).

Party Polarization

Parties often criticized
for similarities
Party polarization is not a major problem in Korea. On the contrary, the main political parties (the Democrats and the Conservatives) are generally criticized for being too similar, with the exception of positions on a few contentious topics such as North Korea. Indeed, it has not even been uncommon for politicians to switch between the main political parties in South Korea, or even to dissolve parties when this has seemed likely to further their political ambitions. However, a certain pluralism has emerged in recent years, although the electoral system’s first-past-the-post (“winner takes all”) model makes it difficult for newly formed political parties without well-known or popular candidates to gain a footing.
Gridlock common despite commonalities
Regardless of the degree of party polarization or the trend of converging policies among parties, Korea’s National Assembly has been notorious for political gridlock. (Score: 5)
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