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Shadowy Shaman Scandals Threaten US Defense Plans In South Korea

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The unfolding scandals threatening to bring down the South Korean president and her administration are likely to impact far more than just domestic politics.

The impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye over her suspected involvement in an influence-peddling scandal appears imminent, which suggests that governmental paralysis may be on its way. U.S. defense plans, specifically the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield in Seongju next year, may face serious setbacks.

Forty members of South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party agreed Friday to back impeachment proceedings, which opposition parties intend to put in motion in early December, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The president is accused of ceding power and influence to close friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil, a suspected shaman and cult leader who allegedly used her ties to Park to illegally acquire millions of dollars and run the country as a shadowy puppet master. Choi has been indicted for a string of crimes, including coercion, fraud, and abuse of power.

Prosecutors suspect that Park colluded with Choi and is an accomplice to her crimes.

Park’s approval rating dropped to four percent Friday, the lowest for any democratically-elected South Korean president, and mass protests are becoming the norm. Yet, she refuses to give in to calls for her resignation.

“If she won’t go, the government is going to be paralyzed,” Robert Kelly, a Pusan National University professor, explained to The Washington Post.

“Regardless of whether Park immediately resigns, the crisis threatens to paralyze the South Korean government for months,” senior Korea expert at the Council on Foreign Relations Scott Snyder argued in a Newsweek article.

“South Korea’s finalization of an information-sharing agreement with Japan may be postponed, and the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, announced by the United States and South Korea in July, will now encounter heightened opposition,” he further noted.

The U.S. and South Korea decided this summer to deploy THAAD to defend the latter against North Korean missiles.

North Korea conducted multiple ballistic missile tests and two nuclear tests this year and has increased its aggressive rhetoric.

If the deployment of THAAD is derailed by South Korea’s political scandals, it will please China, Russia, and North Korea, all of which have expressed concerns over the missile shield’s deployment and even threatened to take retaliatory actions in response.

In addition to complicating U.S. defense plans and emboldening rivals, the political paralysis that is expected to grip Seoul in the near future will likely open the door to North Korean provocations.

“This is a perfect time for some North Korean shenanigans,” Kelly told reporters.

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