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South Korea elects new leader vowing to teach Kim Jong Un "some manners"

CBS News logo CBS News 3/10/2022 Jen Kwon
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Seoul — South Korea has elected a new president, and the man taking the reins may significantly change the key U.S. ally's stance in the standoff with North Korea. Incoming President Yoon Suk-yeol is a conservative who's said he wants to teach "rude boy" North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un some manners.

"If you give me a chance, I will teach him some manners," Yoon said on the campaign trail, promising to make Kim "snap out of it" if he was elected.

Across the demilitarized zone, in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, state media on Wednesday showed Kim paying a visit to his country's national satellite control center, an integral part of his military's missile program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration after recent satellite system tests, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in a photo released on March 10, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). / Credit: KCNA via REUTERS © Provided by CBS News North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration after recent satellite system tests, in Pyongyang, North Korea, in a photo released on March 10, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). / Credit: KCNA via REUTERS

Yoon's election is certain to change the dynamic with North Korea after years of efforts by outgoing President Moon Jae-in to forge diplomacy.

 "We are aware of the growing North Korean nuclear threat, and amid the tensions of the U.S.-China strategic competition, we are also faced with the task of strengthening our global diplomatic capabilities," Yoon said in a speech on Thursday, adding that "to protect people's safety, property, territory and sovereignty," South Korea would also "build a strong national defense force." 

South Korea's president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is seen in a photo provided by his conservative People Power Party after he won the national election, March 10, 2022. / Credit: Handout/People Power Party © Provided by CBS News South Korea's president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is seen in a photo provided by his conservative People Power Party after he won the national election, March 10, 2022. / Credit: Handout/People Power Party

Citing the "illegal and unreasonable behavior of North Korea" Yoon vowed to act decisively, but said "the door to inter-Korean dialogue will remain opened."  

President Joe Biden was the first foreign leader to call Yoon to congratulate him on his election victory.

The White House said Mr. Biden had "emphasized the United States' commitment to the defense of" South Korea and told Yoon that that he looked forward to jointly tackling global challenges from climate change to supply chain issues.

"The two also committed to maintain close coordination on addressing the threats posed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's [North Korea] nuclear and missile programs," the White House said in its readout of the call.

Yoon is relatively new to politics.

A former national prosecutor general, his support came largely from South Koreans who disagree with the outgoing government's moderate stance, particularly on national security matters. But Yoon didn't shift South Korea's presidency back to the right with a resounding mandate, winning the election with just 48.56% of the vote, or about 250,000 more ballots than his rival — a margin of less than 1%.

Yoon has advocated for a more assertive stance on North Korea. He's suggested the deployment of an additional American "THAAD" anti-missile system in his country to bolster defenses against a potential North Korean attack.   

The current THAAD system, deployed in South Korea by the U.S. in 2017, is a major point of contention with North Korea's ally and major U.S. adversary China, which argues the high-tech system enables the U.S. military to monitor Chinese territory.

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