By Jung H. Pak

South Korean president Moon Jae-in has had a very good couple of weeks. Coronavirus was, in some ways, a possibility for Moon to display his management expertise and declare South Korea’s place on the earth as a dynamic, technologically superior, and bureaucratically expert democracy.

Earlier than the pandemic, issues didn’t look nice for Moon. In 2019, his approval ranking had fallen to as little as 30% because of his nation’s financial slowdown and a political scandal. His engagement coverage with North Korea was going nowhere, and ties to Japan have been at all-time low. Critics predicted that the administration’s preliminary muddled pandemic response — marked by gaffes, controversy, and contradictory authorities statements — would sink his occasion’s possibilities on the polls within the April 15 legislative elections.

However buoyed by his administration’s finally profitable dealing with of COVID-19, the ruling Democratic Celebration of Korea (and its affiliated group) received 180 of a complete 300 seats within the Nationwide Meeting, an unprecedented margin of victory since South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987. Two-thirds of the nation’s eligible voters turned out in the course of the international coronavirus pandemic, at the same time as Britain, France, and nearly 20 U.S. states postponed their elections, unable to safe their residents’ security in the event that they tried to train their proper to vote.

South Korea is now the toast of the city. The Washington Submit, amongst different shops, has touted South Korea for displaying the world how “free, honest, and secure elections” could be accomplished. These kudos are on prime of the worldwide plaudits Seoul earned for its widespread testing and remedy of COVID-19 infections, which allowed the nation to keep away from onerous lock-downs.

The nation is now exporting that experience to the world, as most governments — buckling underneath the load of their gradual responses, inaction, or unpreparedness — are grappling to glean finest practices from a rustic that has usually been overshadowed by its blustery, nuclear weapons-wielding neighbor to the north and its company subsumed within the extra dominant narrative about U.S.-China nice energy competitors.

This second is a novel alternative for Moon to shine on the worldwide stage.

This second is a novel alternative for Moon to shine on the worldwide stage, afforded by the truth that South Korea is on the opposite aspect of the curve, whereas the charges of an infection and loss of life rise elsewhere, Beijing and Washington commerce barbs, and the popularity of once-venerable worldwide organizations just like the World Well being Group are eroded.

Right here’s how Moon can construct his international coverage capital.

First, President Moon can begin in his personal neighborhood by rebuilding ties to Japan. Bilateral relations deteriorated in 2019 when a commerce dispute, stemming from simmering tensions over Japan’s use of compelled labor and intercourse slavery throughout Japan’s colonization of Korea, broken financial and safety cooperation and whipped up nationalist fervor in each international locations. That animosity reared its ugly head in early March, when South Korea nonetheless had the very best variety of circumstances outdoors of China. Seoul snapped at Tokyo for instituting journey restrictions for South Koreans, calling the transfer an “pointless, extreme, and intensely regrettable” motion pushed by politics.

However with the wind at his again, Moon can reset ties to Tokyo by facilitating the short supply of assessments and medical gear to Japan, the place the variety of circumstances have spiked in latest days and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has declared a state of emergency over your entire nation. Moon ought to use this chance to generate goodwill among the many folks of Japan and encourage habits of cooperation, not simply in public well being, but additionally towards rebuilding financial and safety partnerships. The momentum for cooperation would rely additionally on Abe’s willingness to put aside variations and salvage the connection, at the same time as a few of his key priorities — the Olympics, for instance — look extra unsure.

Second, Seoul will help form the way forward for worldwide cooperation on pandemics. The devastating and disruptive results of the present pandemic has led to requires restructuring U.S. nationwide safety priorities towards making a sustainable infrastructure of worldwide partnerships that might be able to deal with future pandemics, which scientists assess are rising in frequency. Having arrange a formidable counter-coronavirus infrastructure that features a huge community of testing services, native and central authorities coordination, private-public partnerships for remedy and care, and efficient public data campaigns, the Moon administration is poised to be a crucial affect in establishing a blueprint for the way international locations, individually and collectively, can deal with the subsequent pandemic.  

Lastly, South Korea’s strong use of digital applied sciences to trace circumstances has fed into the talk about civil liberties and privateness in an age of coronavirus. The federal government, with out consent, has collected bank card histories, CCTV footage, and cell phone geolocation information to hint confirmed and potential infections. Well being authorities then contact any people who had been in shut proximity to the contaminated particular person for testing and quarantining, if crucial. Disinfection groups are dispatched to these areas and textual content messages are blasted out to residents of that locale to warn them about what locations they need to keep away from or to alert them to the potential of their an infection.

Analysts are rightly involved in regards to the potential for such instruments for use in non-pandemic conditions to strengthen authoritarian management, pointing to the Chinese language Communist Celebration, which has already harnessed such applied sciences to repress and monitor the inhabitants. South Korea’s COVID-19 measures are primarily based in its legal guidelines that have been particularly designed to handle a illness outbreak — the authorized reform got here after the MERS outbreak in 2015 and emphasizes the general public’s proper to know in a public well being emergency — nevertheless it additionally has had the world’s strictest privateness legal guidelines since 2011, in response to the Worldwide Affiliation of Privateness Professionals.

It stays to be seen how a lot or little of South Korea’s instance might be transferred elsewhere. However given the federal government’s expertise, its established authorized framework for public well being administration, and the presence of the world’s greatest tech behemoths like Samsung and LG, the Moon administration might have a lot to contribute to worldwide coverage debates on how you can erect guardrails in opposition to abuse of digital applied sciences and shield particular person rights in public well being emergencies, whereas fostering innovation and a mutually helpful public-private partnership.

The latest election and COVID-19 have given President Moon a megaphone. How he chooses to make use of it — whether or not he’ll attempt to mend ties to Japan and broaden South Korea’s management on international points or stoke nationalism and proceed to focus extra narrowly on inter-Korean ties — will communicate volumes about his imaginative and prescient for South Korea, past the top of his time period in 2022.


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