The upcoming election in South Korea to select the successor to ousted President Park Geun-hye could spark sharp criticism of her foreign policy decisions, such as the deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system, a top U.S. expert said Thursday.
South Korea's Constitutional Court unanimously endorsed Park's impeachment over a corruption scandal, removing her from office before completing her five-year term that was set to end in February next year. By law, the country should elect a new leader in two months.
"The truncated election campaign will be intense. Many fiery things will be said, perhaps about THAAD, Japan, etc.," Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank, told Yonhap News Agency.
"It will be important for the U.S. to understand the extremes that campaign rhetoric can go to, and to work closely with a new government as soon as it comes into place," he said.
The court's decision came just days after the U.S. brought into South Korea the first elements of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery that the two countries agreed to host in the country to defend better against North Korean missile threats.
Park's ouster could raise doubts about Park's decision to host THAAD amid intensifying pressure from China that has strongly railed against the deployment, claiming the system, especially its powerful radar, can be used against the country.
Other major foreign policy decisions include the deeply unpopular agreement that she reached with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late 2015 to resolve a long-running row surrounding Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women for its troops during World War II.
Last year, she also approved a military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan.
Scott Snyder, chief Korea analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said that the court's decision is the "first step toward reducing uncertainty and ending the political vacuum on North Korea by triggering an early election, which will eventually normalize Korea's domestic politics."
"The election result could bring changes and give South Korea renewed leadership capability as well as redefine South Korea's relations with its neighbors. but for now the important factor is that there is a timeline for ending the vacuum and stalemate that have inhibited South Korea from playing an effective foreign policy role," he said. (Yonhap)