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Analysis-Moon’s push for South Korean military independence may echo far beyond his presidency

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October 22, 2021

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – When South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrived this week at Seoul’s largest weapons expo ever https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/arriving-fighter-jet-skoreas-moon-urges-defence-industry-growth-2021-10-20 in the back seat of a fighter jet, he didn’t present the image of a leader bent on making peace with North Korea.

Under Moon, South Korea has not only continued many of the military programmes approved under his conservative predecessors, but pushed already large defence budgets to new highs, negotiated an end to U.S. restrictions on its missile programme, and announced plans for the nation’s first aircraft carrier, among a plethora of other advanced weapons https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/skorea-successfully-tests-submarine-launched-ballistic-missile-blue-house-2021-09-15.

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Whatever the outcome of Moon’s last-ditch efforts to a achieve a breakthrough with North Korea https://www.reuters.com/world/china/exclusive-north-south-korea-talks-over-summit-reopening-liaison-office-sources-2021-07-28 before he leaves office in May, that military buildup appears a lasting legacy.

It seems at odds with the liberal president’s drive to foster inter-Korean peace, and Pyongyang has cited the arms buildup as an example of hostile duplicity by Seoul and its allies in Washington.

But among Moon’s main motivations – and one that he appears to have believed is worth the risk of provoking the North – was his desire to build more autonomy within South Korea’s alliance with the United States and eventually win operational control of allied forces in the event of a war, according to officials and analysts.

“When this government unveiled F-35 fighter jets in 2019 after buying them from the U.S., I wondered why they would do that even as they want to champion inter-Korean engagement, knowing the North hates it so much,” one diplomatic source in Seoul said. “But I later realised that in Moon’s concept of self-reliant defence, they do what they plan to do, come rain or come shine.”

Since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, the U.S. military has retained control over hundreds of thousands of South Korean forces alongside the roughly 28,500 American troops in the country if another war breaks out.

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Moon made obtaining control of the joint forces a major goal, but a delayed review https://www.reuters.com/article/southkorea-usa-military-idINKBN2AZ020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues has made it impossible in what is left of his term.

Nevertheless, Moon “seems to have decided to continue laying the groundwork for a future transfer through military buildup, no matter who succeeds him,” the source said, speaking on anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivity.

His push for more military power has been influenced by other factors, most prominently a genuine concern about countering North Korea’s growing threats, officials said.

It has also driven new business to South Korea’s defence contractors, boosted national prestige and helped Moon blunt criticism from conservatives that his outreach to North Korea might endanger the South and the U.S. alliance.

‘STRENGTH FOR PEACE’

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To Moon, having a strong military is a natural part of making peace with North Korea from a position of strength, with reduced reliance on the United States, a South Korean military source said.

“Moon’s push brings important suggestions that South Korea is now ready to take the lead in establishing peace on the peninsula on its own, not as part of allied forces,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“As we promote strength-based peace, this government has not given up on cross-border ties,” the source added. “They will strive to bring the North back to the table till the end, and have raised the issue of ending the war in line with that effort.”

Moon called for declaring a formal end to the war https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/south-korean-leader-repeats-call-declaration-end-korean-war-2021-09-21 in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month, saying it would help reopen stalled talks aimed at denuclearising North Korea in return for U.S. sanctions relief.

In recent years, the North has publicly tested several short-range missiles that analysts say are designed to evade South Korea’s defences. It has matched several moves by Seoul, including holding a duelling arms show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-threatens-upstage-skorea-defence-expo-with-duelling-military-show-2021-10-14 and launching a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-it-conducted-successful-missile-test-submarine-kcna-2021-10-19 just weeks after South Korea had conducted its own SLBM test https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/nkorea-fired-unidentified-projectile-yonhap-citing-skorea-military-2021-09-15.

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Pyongyang has repeatedly complained about South Korea’s weapons acquisitions and joint drills with the Americans, accusing Seoul of applying double standards https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-suggestion-declare-end-korean-war-is-premature-kcna-2021-09-23 over military development while destabilising the peninsula with its own buildup.

But Pyongyang has also shown willingness to overlook or downplay the South’s military moves when it sees fit, Seoul officials said.

“There was no strong backlash, though South Korean weapons are obviously not welcome to the North, and I think it’s their strategy to pretend to be a normal state and legitimise their own weapons development,” the first source said. “But the arms race is headed in a quite dangerous direction, with no arms control mechanisms or confidence-building measures whatsoever between both sides.”

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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