On Thursday, South Korean voters, surging on a wave of youthful
nationalist and anti-US feeling, narrowly elected a former labor
lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun, to lead their country. It was a clear blow to
White House hopes for a government more sympathetic to American
troops and tough US policies on North Korea's recent nuclear
Mr. Roh - who came to national prominence as a hard hitting
interrogator of government officials in 1988, but who has no
national experience - defeated Lee Hoi-chang, a former Supreme Court
justice and leader of a pro-US "old guard" party. The outcome was
unclear until last night, when a mostly under-40 crowded danced and
shouted and carried yellow balloons through the streets of this
While Mr. Lee campaigned on the need to scrap the Sunshine Policy
of engagement with the North, Roh aligned himself with the view that
tough US policies are causing tension and potential strife in Korea.
Roh will lead for one five-year term a country that now exists in
a curious interregnum between its aspirations to be a star
independent player in Asia and a set of sobering unresolved
realities. Among those: Korea's protection from the fifth largest
army in the world is still provided by a $5 billion annual US
Also, as the election itself shows, the country is deeply divided
over basic national questions about its identity, about the US and
the North, and between a generation that remembers the Korean war
and a high-tech cell- phone carrying "Internet" generation that has
watched Korea mature into one of the world's top 10 economies.
Roh has said little in recent weeks about the North's nuclear
program. Last week, in a comment to reporters, he said he lacked
"clear evidence that they [North Korea] is developing a nuclear
One senior Western official hopes Roh's views on the North will
change. "I think he will begin to see a different level of security
briefing, now that he is in office," the official commented.
How Roh will actually approach the US once in office is also
unknown, and he has yet to announce his international policy team.
"He must stabilize relations with the US and at the same time
manage a nuclear crisis similar to the one faced in 1993," says
Scott Snyder of the Asia Foundation in Seoul, referring to North
Korea's recent admission of a secret nuclear program. "Roh's
challenge will be to gain the confidence and trust of the US, try to
equalize Korea's relations with the US. And he's dealing with some
internal skepticism about this in the White House."
Some Korean commentators say major changes are coming. "With Roh
elected, we may have a massive problem with the US," says Shim Jae-
hoon, a well-known analyst and writer. "Roh has said he will review
the structure of relations with the US dating to 50 years ago.
Koreans do want that. But whereas Lee wanted to review in a positive
way, Roh wants a critical review. …