South Korea’s Right Turn; North Korea Tests Missiles

Conservative prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol was narrowly elected President of South Korea as North Korea ramps up ballistic missile testing.


South Koreans narrowly elected former prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative People Power Party to lead the world’s 10th largest economy.

  • Yoon defeated Lee Jae-myung of the governing progressive Democratic Party by a margin of 48.6%-47.8% in the race to succeed outgoing President Moon Jae-in. South Korean presidents serve a five-year term and may not seek reelection.
  • President-elect Yoon campaigned on a stronger security relationship with the United States and a more assertive stance against China and North Korea.
  • The race between Yoon and Lee, the governor of populous Gyeonggi Province who dubbed himself “South Korea’s Bernie Sanders” was characterized by negative campaigning and personal attacks. The head of the ruling Democratic Party, Song Young-gil, was attacked with a hammer at a campaign event on Monday.
  • North Korea conducted its 11th missile launch of the year and tested a spy satellite in recent days.
  • The United States and ten other nations – including Japan, South Korea, Australia, France, Brazil, and the UK – condemned the launches and urged the United Nations to act.
  • US intelligence officials believe North Korea is laying the groundwork to resume intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times’ covered Yoon’s history as a prosecutor. Yoon built his reputation by investigating political corruption in his own party. He helped jail ex-president Park Geun-hye on corruption charges.
  • BBC News wrote that “misogyny is at the heart” of South Korea’s election and explored the culture war fought largely between young women and young men.
  • CNN explored the role played by feminism – and the backlash to feminism – in South Korea’s election. Both candidates have sought the anti-feminist vote. Growing numbers of young men in South Korea believe gender equality has gone too far and men now face heightened discrimination.



  • The Wall Street Journal investigated the “clashes and contrasts” that defined the South Korean presidential election. The campaign featured sharp divisions over gender equality, housing, income inequality and foreign policy.
  • Fox News published satellite images that appear to show construction at a nuclear testing facility North Korea claimed that it destroyed in 2018.
  • The Washington Examiner reported South Korea detained a North Korean military vessel on Tuesday. This was the first time a North Korean military ship has crossed their shared border since a 2018 agreement was signed to reduce tensions.

Author’s Take

The United States was the biggest winner of South Korea’s presidential election outside of South Korea. Yoon Suk-yeol promised a dramatic course correction from the policies of his predecessor and called for a stronger security alliance between South Korea and the United States to counter North Korea and China.

Yoon dismissed the opposition Democratic Party’s North Korea policy as “subservient.” South Korea’s outgoing president, Moon Jae-in, prioritized cooperation with China and North Korea. Moon tried to achieve denuclearization through diplomacy in part by encouraging the Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summits. These efforts unraveled, with little to show for it besides a legion of memes.

North Korean missile tests are happening more frequently than they have in years. As the Russia-Ukraine war rages and regional tensions flare up in Taiwan and Iran, the United States needs a strong partner on the Korean peninsula. Let’s hope Yoon Suk-yeol plans to keep his promises.

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© Dominic Moore, 2022