Tensions are high on the Korean Peninsula, as U.S. officials say there are concerns that North Korea may be preparing to resume nuclear testing. South Korea’s new President, Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor with little foreign policy experience, is determined to take on the challenge.
On the campaign trail, Yoon, of the conservative People Power Party, called for a tougher stance in relation to his country’s northern neighbor, compared with that of his predecessor, who had pushed for greater engagement with North Korea. In his May 10 inauguration address, Yoon offered an “audacious plan” to strengthen North Korea’s economy in exchange for complete denuclearization. It’s a deal that analysts say Kim Jong Un is unlikely to accept.
The 61-year-old Yoon has also said that he wants to align with the U.S.—South Korea’s most important military ally—more closely. This will likely create friction with China, its largest trading partner.
But if Yoon has big aims internationally, he will also need to prove himself at home. The populist leader promises to heal economic and political divides, something that will be necessary after a campaign in which he inflamed divisions by weaponizing antifeminist rhetoric to gain support. Not everyone is confident in his abilities. A poll released in early April by Gallup Korea found that only 55% of respondents expect Yoon, who won by a razor-thin margin, to do a good job in office.
Gunia is a TIME staff writer
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