Ukraine war

Yoon of South Korea opens the door for probable military aid to Ukraine

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol speaks during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea, April 18, 2023. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

President Yoon Suk Yeol signaled a first-time pivot in his opposition to arming Ukraine by stating that South Korea may extend its support for Ukraine beyond humanitarian and economic aid if the country is subjected to a large-scale civilian attack.

In an interview with Reuters before his state visit to the United States next week, Yoon stated that his government is investigating ways to assist Ukraine in defending itself and rebuilding, just as South Korea did during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

"If there is a situation that the international community cannot condone, such as a large-scale attack on civilians, massacre, or serious violation of the laws of war, it may be difficult for us to insist on only humanitarian or financial assistance," Yoon said.

It was the first time in more than a year that Seoul had indicated a willingness to provide Ukraine with weapons.

South Korea, a key U.S. ally and a significant producer of artillery ammunition, has thus far avoided antagonizing Russia due to its companies' presence and Moscow's influence over North Korea, despite mounting pressure from Western nations for weapons supply.

Yoon stated, "I believe there will be no limitations on the scope of support to defend and restore a country that has been illegally invaded under international and domestic law." "However, in light of our relationship with the warring parties and the developments on the battlefield, we will take the most suitable actions."

Yoon is scheduled to visit Washington next week for a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the alliance between South Korea and the United States.

During the summit, Yoon stated that he would seek "tangible outcomes" regarding the efforts of the allies to improve their responses to the evolving threats posed by North Korea, which has increased its military tests and launched its first solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile last week.

Yoon stated that Seoul would increase its surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence analysis capabilities and construct "ultra-high-performance, high-power weapons" to counter North Korean threats.

If a nuclear conflict were to break out between South and North Korea, the entire region of Northeast Asia would likely be reduced to ash. This must be halted," he stated.

Yoon responded that the allies are focusing on bilateral measures to strengthen information-sharing, joint contingency planning, and joint execution of the plans when asked if they envisage an Asian version of NATO's nuclear planning group involving Japan.

South Korea and the United States conducted tabletop exercises simulating a North Korean nuclear attack in February as part of Seoul's efforts to play a more significant role in Washington's atomic policy regarding the North.

"In terms of preparing a response to a powerful nuclear attack, I believe stronger measures than those currently employed by NATO should be prepared," Yoon said.

"I don't see a problem with Japan joining, but since the U.S. and South Korea have made so much progress, it would be more efficient for us to create this system first."

'No Summit For Show'

The North has threatened "more practical and offensive" action in response to South Korea-U.S. exercises and has refused to answer inter-Korean hotlines.

Yoon has stated that he is open to peace talks but opposes any "surprise" summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "show off" to domestic voters.

He criticized former governments' abrupt, uninformed announcements of inter-Korean talks, stating that they did little to establish trust.

Moon Jae-in, Yoon's predecessor, predicated his legacy on improving inter-Korean relations and facilitated a historic meeting between Kim and then-President Trump in 2018.

Three summits between Kim and Moon in 2018 promised peace and reconciliation. Still, relations have deteriorated, and North Korea has conducted unprecedented weapons tests since the second summit between Kim and Trump failed.

Yoon stated, "They utilized these talks before elections, but ultimately inter-Korean relations were always back to square one."

He said that humanitarian aid could open the door to dialogue, and both factions could build on those discussions to move on to more delicate matters, such as the economy and the military.

Last year, the Yoon administration proposed COVID-19 respite and unveiled plans to provide economic aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament, but Pyongyang rejected both offers categorically.

"Had previous talks proceeded step-by-step... before the leaders' meeting, the inter-Korean relationship would have developed steadily, albeit at a snail's pace," Yoon said.

China is South Korea's most significant trading partner, so Yoon has cautiously approached Sino-American rivalry. However, he has been more vocal about tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

As Beijing intensifies diplomatic and military pressure on Taipei to embrace Chinese sovereignty, tensions over democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own, have escalated.

Yoon stated, "Ultimately, these tensions result from attempts to alter the status quo by force, which the international community and we vehemently oppose."

"Like the North Korea issue, the Taiwan issue is a global one, not just a problem between China and Taiwan."

Publish : 2023-04-19 11:22:00

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