South Korea’s Constitutional Court removed Park Geun-hye, the nation’s beleaguered president, on Friday, March 10, as had been anticipated at the time I filed this column. As Park no longer enjoys official immunity, she is now exposed to criminal charges based on allegations of bribery, extortion, and abuse of office. There is text and subtext in these events. Corruption is the immediate cause of the conservative Park’s downfall. She was accused last year of intimidating Samsung and other conglomerates into contributing very large sums to various foundations controlled by Park and her associates in exchange for government favors. But beneath this lies the highly charged question of Park’s right-wing politics and tough line on North Korea. Park, the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the nation’s dictator in the 1960s and ’70s, represented a Cold War order South Koreans have outgrown. Most recently, she and Hwang Kuo-ahn, her stand-in since she was impeached in December, acquiesced in the Pentagon’s request to position its THAAD anti-missile defense system on South Korean soil—this amid months of demonstrations against the deployment. It was the threat of Park’s downfall, indeed, that prompted the United States to begin rushing the system into place last week. Given that Park’s right-wing Liberty Korea Party is now discredited, the opposition Democrats are in a strong position to halt the THAAD project, as they have promised. The Democrats, as I have written, favor renewed negotiations with the North—and may, indeed, revive Kim Dae-jung’s celebrated “sunshine policy” should they take power in elections now due within two months. In sum, Park Geun-hye’s political demise is likely to have significant geopolitical repercussions.
The Trump administration addresses the North Korea crisis: What magnitude of angst overtakes you as you contemplate this thought? However bigly you may quake—or smally, in fairness—it is time to accept that the artful dealmaker is very likely to tuck into the world’s direst strait, nuclear-charged for the past 11 years, at some point during his stay in the White House. Recent events suggest this may come quite soon.
But before getting to recent events—missile tests, murder, and so on—I pose a question. What do Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have in common?
No one would dare equate Donald Trump and North Korea’s latest leader—although Gail Collins, la fine fleur intellectuelle on the New York Times opinion page, came close the other day. But there is this: Anyone can say anything he or she wants about either of these people and, no matter how groundless, it is unlikely to be challenged.