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Diplomacy emerges as double-edged sword for S. Korean president

Yoon’s approval rating falls below 30% after overseas trips

By Nam Hyun-woo

President Yoon Suk-yeol has seen his job approval rating dive below the 30 percent mark again despite spending a week jam-packed with diplomacy, including trips to Southeast Asia for regional summits.

Traditionally, public polls released right after a president’s overseas trip show upticks in job approval ratings. But for Yoon, the opposite is happening again, due to controversies associated with him overshadowing diplomatic achievements, thereby negatively affecting his job approval.

According to a survey by Gallup Korea released on Friday, Yoon’s job approval rating stood at 29 percent in the third week of this month, down 1 percentage point from a week earlier.

Negative responses reached 61 percent, down 1 percentage point during the same period.

In the poll, which surveyed 1,007 adults from Nov. 15 to 17, the top reason for both positive and negative opinions was diplomacy.

Among positive respondents, 12 percent picked Yoon’s diplomacy as the reason why they approved his job performance, followed by overall performance at 10 percent and national security at 9 percent.

Among negative respondents, 9 percent picked Yoon’s diplomacy as the biggest reason for their disapproval. Another 9 percent were dissatisfied with his overall performance, followed by 8 percent who cited the government’s poor response to the Itaewon crowd crush, which killed 158 people who were enjoying Halloween festivities on Oct. 29.

The positive opinions appeared to reflect Yoon’s diplomatic achievements during the past week.

From Nov. 11 to 16, Yoon visited Cambodia and Indonesia to attend ASEAN-related summits and the G-20 Summit. During the trip, Yoon had summits with his counterparts of six countries _ the U.S., Japan, China, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines _ and joined a trilateral summit with the U.S. and Japan. After returning home, he held summits with the prime ministers of the Netherlands and Spain, and met Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

During the summits, Yoon announced South Korea’s Indo-Pacific strategy, an initiative to bolster ties between South Korea and ASEAN members and stronger commitments for Seoul-Washington-Tokyo trilateral security cooperation to counter North Korea’s nuclear threats. Also, respective summits with Japan and China have served as watershed moments to improve South Korea’s chilled relations with its regional neighbors.

Negative opinions, on the other hand, appear to reflect the ongoing controversies over the presidential office’s decision to ban broadcaster MBC from boarding the presidential jet, accusing as “fake news” its reports on Yoon’s alleged use of profanities during his trip to New York in September.

After the September 18-24 trip, Yoon’s job approval rating plummeted to 24 percent in the fifth week of that month, down 4 percentage points from a week earlier, according to Gallup Korea ratings. At that time, the top reason for both positive and negative responses was diplomacy.

In June, when Yoon was mired in a controversy for letting the wife of one of his secretaries board the presidential jet, his job approval rating plunged to 37 percent in the first week of July, down 6 percent from a week earlier.

“Previous presidents’ overseas trips have jacked up their job approval ratings, because such trips showcase a leader representing national interests on the global stage and coming home with some results, even if those results are nothing more than rhetoric,” said Park Sang-byeong, a professor at Inha University’s Graduate School of Policy Science.

“That is why some survey analysts say an overseas trip guarantees the president a 5 percent surplus to his or her job approval rating,” Park added.

He said, however, that this is not the case for Yoon as various controversies eclipse any achievements during his overseas trips.

“Having this level of job approval rating in his first six months of presidency means that Yoon is already losing grip on state affairs,” he said. “Since it is more difficult to expect a boost in his approval rating with domestic politics, chances are high that the president or the ruling bloc will keep a tighter rein on the opposition bloc, in order to seek a stronger bond between the conservatives.”

As the professor noted, the prosecution is expediting its investigations into close aides of main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Lee Jae-myung on suspicions that they received illegal political funds. Although Yoon and the presidential office are refraining from making comments on the investigations, the DPK is crying foul, claiming the probes are “Yoon’s political persecution of the opposition.”

Yoon faces tough domestic issues after returning to Korea.

The DPK is urging the ruling bloc to accept its demand for an official investigation into the government’s possible misconduct in the Itaewon crowd crush. Along with the DPK, two other minor opposition parties jointly submitted a document requesting the investigation, and announced that they will pass a bill by Thursday to launch the probe.

So far, the presidential office and the ruling People Power Party have been saying that they should wait until ongoing investigations end to determine whether police responded to the incident appropriately. But the three-party coalition can unilaterally pass the state investigation plan bill, because it controls more than half of the National Assembly’s seats.

Source : Korea Times