South Korean presidential candidates to debate

South Korea will hold its second presidential debate today. Four candidates will take the stage: Lee Jae-myung of the ruling

South Korean presidential candidates to debate Photo: Kim Hong-Ji/AFP/Getty

South Korea will hold its second presidential debate today.

Four candidates will take the stage: Lee Jae-myung of the ruling liberal Democratic Party, Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative opposition and two minor candidates. Lee and Yoon poll well ahead of the other two candidates. Yoon has held a slight lead over Lee throughout the race.

Lee’s gaffe last Friday, where he blamed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will likely give Yoon a brief boost. The gaffe revealed Lee’s stance on the deployment of additional American THAAD missile defense systems in South Korea. Lee considers such deployments unacceptable provocations of China. Yoon, meanwhile, is pushing for another THAAD deployment to secure against the North Korean threat.

Given the fractured state of the race and the close polling, it is difficult to predict who will be elected, though given polling and outgoing president Moon Jae-in’s unpopularity, a Yoon victory appears marginally more likely. If Yoon is elected, expect an immediate THAAD deployment and an explicit strategic alignment with the US, perhaps even joining the Quad. If Lee is, expect Moon’s policy of strategic ambiguity to be maintained. South Korea’s general military buildup, however, will likely continue regardless.

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