Freedom was the keyword of President Yoon Suk-yeol's inauguration speech, mentioned 35 times throughout his address on Tuesday.
Protecting freedom set the tone for how Yoon's administration would tackle the slew of issues that South Korea faces, from social and income disparities, economic growth and innovation to dealing with North Korea and Seoul's place in global governance.
Can Yoon make South Korea a beacon of freedom and liberal democracy in the world over the next five years as he envisions?
Today, we invite Professor SHIN Gi-Wook, Director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.
1. President Yoon begins his term in office with a very polarised public opinion towards his presidency. There have been concerns that Yoon, with his elite background and key appointments, will be out of touch with the South Korean public. What must he do to prove he is up to the job?
2. You have a book coming out next month, Professor Shin, called South Korea's Democracy in Crisis, highlighting the threat of Illiberalism, Populism, and Polarization in recent years. What was notable about President Yoon Suk-yeol’s speech was that he emphasised the importance of ‘liberal’ democracy, as opposed to the Moon administration which omitted using the word liberal. What do you make of this change?
3. Achieving ‘fairness’ in society has been one of the major changes South Koreans wanted to see, but there wasn’t much of this over the past 5 years as Moon’s own party members were caught up in MeToo and nepotism scandals. How critical is it for Yoon to address social justice and corruption and how should he go about doing so?
4. There’s concern that Yoon’s traditionally pro-business party may overlook some social welfare policies. Will they pay enough attention to improving people’s livelihoods? What are the key areas that they must prioritise, amid worsening income polarisation and dismal future prospects for young people?
5. His move to relocate the presidential office to Yongsan-gu district in Seoul has generated a fair amount of criticism. The decision has already been made so what does he need to do in order to make the move worth the billions of KRW? What would you like to see him do to make the presidential office more transparent?
7. After South Korea experienced a relatively rocky relationship during the Moon years, Yoon wants to strengthen the ROK-US alliance and is set to meet with President Joe Biden this month. What are the first steps you see them taking to bolster their ties?
-> [Your views on North Korea] How do you expect the North Korea agenda to be tackled under Yoon and Biden?
8. Yoon's foreign policy on South Korea's neighbours is set to look like a reverse of Mr. Moon's. How should South Korea redefine its ties with Tokyo and Beijing?
9. You will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Korea Program at Stanford. What should be South Korea's role in the world going forward? Are South Koreans ready to be more global and play a more positive role in the world to spread democratic values?
Professor SHIN Gi-Wook at Stanford University. It was a privilege speaking with you.