South Korean foreign policy is set for a broad revamp under the next president amid expectations for friendlier ties with Pyongyang and delayed deployment of a controversial missile defense technology — two areas of paramount concern for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he visits the country later this week.
As Asia's fourth-largest economy continues to reel in the aftermath of Friday's landmark ruling that made Park Geun-hye the country's first president to be ousted via impeachment, attention has partly shifted from Park to the question of her successor. A presidential election to replace the former leader will be held by May 9 at the latest and many political pundits say the public will elect the nation's first liberal president in a decade.
The ruling conservative party, which was newly renamed from Saenuri to the Liberal Korea Party, has yet to produce a strong contender after being damaged by the Park scandal, leaving left-leaning opposition parties in the lead.
Moon Jae-in from the Democratic Party, has been topping polls so far, with a 29.9 percent approval rating, according to a weekend survey of 2,046 citizens by the Korea Research Center — the highest figure among presidential hopefuls. A separate survey by Realmeter on Saturday showed the Democratic Party, who has four presidential candidates in total, obtaining 45.7 percent support, the most of any political group.
Traditionally, liberal governments have pursued different foreign policy agendas from their conservative peers. If such a policy shift were to occur, it would be particularly significant amid North Korea's recent missile launches and Chinese retaliation over the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile system designed to protect South Korea from North Korean weapons.