National Commentaries

South Korea places human rights as one of its main policy principles and is a member of seven international treaties. In recent months, the Moon administration has faced increased international criticism over its handling of human rights issues among its two neighboring countries – North Korea and China. President Moon Jae-in, a former human rights activist who came into office through the candlelight movement, has avoided actively addressing the topic of international human rights while seeking to improve bilateral relations with both countries. While the Moon administration prioritizes peace and prosperity on the peninsula, the Human Rights Foundation said South Korea has yet to release its policy on human rights issues, establish the North Korea Human Rights Foundation, and appoint a North Korea human rights ambassador.1 Following North Korea’s threat to pull out of the inter-Korean military agreement over anti-Pyongyang leaflets in June 2020, the administration has intensified crackdowns on cross-border leaflets while initiating inspections on North Korea activist groups.2 On China, the administration has refrained from openly raising human rights issues including the Hong Kong National Security Law and the Uighur human rights violations in Xinjiang.3 While the South Korean general public acknowledges the human rights abuses, there seems to be a divergence in terms of foreign policy towards international human rights. This article therefore seeks to understand the diverging South Korean perspective towards international human rights issues in North Korea and China.

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