North Korea Reports Test of New Cruise Missile as Arms Race Intensifies

SEOUL — North Korea said on Monday it​ had successfully launched newly developed long-range cruise missiles, its first missile test in six months and a new indication that an arms race between North and South Korea was heating up on the Korean Peninsula.

​In the tests that took place on Saturday and Sunday, the North Korean missiles hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away after flying more than two hours, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The missiles changed their trajectories and made circles before hitting their targets, it said.

A series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles, but not cruise missiles. A cruise missile test by the North usually does not raise as much alarm as its ballistic missile tests. The country’s state-run media also indicated that the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had not attended the weekend tests, though he has usually supervised all major weapons tests in recent years.

The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles while nuclear disarmament talks with the United States remained stalled. North Korea said on Monday that the long-range cruise missile was “a strategic weapon of great significance” and part of an arms development goal announced by Mr. Kim during the party congress in January.

ramping up its own arms buildup.

Dosan Ahn Changho-class attack submarine. North Korea began testing its submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 2015, reporting the “greatest success” the following year.

As international negotiations have made little progress in stopping North Korea from growing its weapons arsenal, South Korea has embarked on building more powerful missiles and missile-defense systems of its own to counter North Korean threats.

launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Donald J. Trump, then president, lifted the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. During the summit meeting in May between President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, the allies agreed to terminate the missile guidelines, leaving South Korea free to develop longer-range missiles.

North Korea reacted angrily to the removal of the missile restrictions, ​calling it “a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy.”

The removal of the limits allows South Korea to build ballistic missiles with larger warheads that hold destructive power and that can target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal and where its leadership would hide at war, military analysts said.

When Mr. Moon visited his Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world,” an apparent reference to the Hyunmoo-4, which missile experts say can cover all of North Korea with a two-ton payload.

When North Korea last conducted a missile test, on March 25, it said it had launched a new ballistic missile that carried a 2.5-ton warhead. This month, reports emerged in South Korean news media that the South was developing an even more powerful weapon: a short-range ballistic missile with a payload of up to three tons.

The tit-for-tat weapons buildup signaled that the rival militaries were arming themselves with increasingly powerful missiles that can fly farther and carry more destructive power, and that are harder to intercept.

said this month.

last October and in January, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be newly developed intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said last month that the country appeared to have restarted a reactor in its main nuclear complex​.

But North Korea has refrained from​ testing an I.C.B.M. or a nuclear device since 2017. Its most recent military parade, held Thursday to mark the government’s 73rd anniversary, did not feature new weapons.

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They Were Promised a Socialist Paradise, and Ended Up in ‘Hell’

SEOUL — On a bright August morning in 1960, after two days of sailing from Japan, hundreds of passengers rushed on deck as someone shouted, “I see the fatherland!”

The ship pulled into Chongjin, a port city in North Korea, where a crowd of people waved paper flowers and sang welcome songs. But Lee Tae-kyung felt something dreadfully amiss in the “paradise” he had been promised.

“The people gathered were expressionless,” Mr. Lee recalled. “I was only a child of 8, but I knew we were in the wrong place.”

Mr. Lee’s and his family were among 93,000 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea from 1959 to 1984 under a repatriation program sponsored by both governments and their Red Cross societies. When they arrived, they saw destitute villages and people living in poverty, but were forced to stay. Some ended up in prison camps.

renewed interest in North Korean human rights violations, and when leaders in Japan and South Korea remain particularly sensitive about opening old wounds between the two countries.

“It was my mother who urged my father to take our family to the North,” Mr. Lee said. “And it was her endless source of regret until she died at age 74.”

The Lees were among two million Koreans who moved to Japan during Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. Some went there looking for work, others were taken for forced labor in Japan’s World War II effort. Lacking citizenship and financial opportunities, most returned to Korea after the Japanese surrender.

Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

Japan approved of the migration despite the fact that most Koreans in the country were from the South, which was mired in political unrest. While Japanese authorities said ethnic Koreans chose to relocate to North Korea, human rights groups have accused the country of aiding and abetting the deception by ignoring the circumstances the migrants would face in the communist country.

Japanese women married to Korean men and thousands of biracial children. Among them was a young woman named Ko Yong-hee, who would later become a dancer and give birth to Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and grandson of its founder.

When Mr. Lee’s family boarded the ship in 1960, his parents thought Korea would soon be reunited. Mr. Lee’s mother gave him and his four siblings cash and told them to enjoy their last days in Japan. Mr. Lee bought a mini pinball-game machine. His younger sister brought home a baby doll that closed its eyes when it lay on the bed.

“It was the last freedom we would taste,” he said.

He realized his family had been duped, he said, when he saw the people at Chongjin, who “all looked poor and ashen.” In the rural North Korean county where his family was ordered to resettle, they were shocked to see people go without shoes or umbrellas in the rain.

In 1960 alone, 49,000 people migrated from Japan to North Korea, but the number sharply declined as word spread of the true conditions in the country. Despite the watchful eye of censors, families devised ways to warn their relatives. One man wrote a message on the back of a postage stamp:

“We are not able to leave the village,” he wrote in the tiny space, urging his brother in Japan not to come.

Mr. Lee’s aunt ​sent her mother​ a letter​ telling her to consider immigrating to North Korea when her nephew was old enough to marry. The message was clear: The nephew was only 3.

To survive, the migrants often relied on cash and packages sent by relatives still in Japan. In school, Mr. Lee said, children called him “ban-jjokbari,” an insulting term for Koreans from Japan. Everyone lived under constant fear of being called disloyal and banished to prison camps.

refugees, spending two and a half years in prison in Myanmar when he and his smuggler were detained for human trafficking. After arriving in Seoul in 2009, Mr. Lee helped smuggle his wife and daughter out of North Korea. But he still has ​relatives, including a son, stuck in the country, he said.

His wife died in 2013, and now Mr. Lee lives alone in a small rented apartment in Seoul. “But I have freedom,” he said. “I would have sacrificed everything else for it.”

Mr. Lee has formed an association with 50 ethnic Koreans from Japan who migrated to North Korea and escaped to the South. Every December, the group meets to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the mass migration in 1959. His memoir is nearly complete. His generation is the last to have firsthand experience of what happened to those 93,000 migrants, he said.

“It’s sad that our stories will be buried when we die,” Mr. Lee said.

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North Korea Warns Biden Against ‘Hostile Policy’

SEOUL — North Korea said on Sunday that President Biden had made “a big blunder” by calling its nuclear arsenal a threat last week, and it warned that the United States would face “a very grave situation” if it maintained what it called a “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

The statement, attributed to a senior official, was one of three that the North released on Sunday directed at the United States and its ally South Korea. They included warnings that the North might respond to the Biden administration’s recent statements about the country with unspecified “corresponding measures.”

Mr. Biden made a brief reference to North Korea in his speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, saying that its nuclear program and Iran’s presented “serious threats to American security and the security of the world.” He said the United States and its allies would deal with them “through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.”

“It is certain that the U.S. chief executive made a big blunder,” Kwon Jong-gun, a senior official at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry​, said in a statement published by the North’s state news media. He said Mr. Biden’s remark “clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward” North Korea.

ended in 2019 with no agreement on dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons facilities or easing American-led sanctions imposed on the North.

On March 25, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles, its first such test in a year. Analysts have since warned that the North could carry out more tests or other provocations in an attempt to bolster its leverage in any talks with the Biden administration.

The administration, which has been conducting a North Korea policy review, recently indicated that it would pursue a strategy somewhere between Mr. Trump’s direct outreach to Mr. Kim, in which he strove for a single, sweeping deal, and the “strategic patience” approach of former President Barack Obama, which sought to compel the North to negotiate through sanctions and other forms of pressure. Both approaches failed​, and North Korea has kept expanding its arsenal.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday that the administration “will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience.” She said it would seek “a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea and would try to “make practical progress that increases the security​”​ of the United States and its allies.

a statement ​last week ​by Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, who called North Korea “one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world.” Mr. Price cited “shoot-to-kill orders at the North Korea-China border” that American officials say the North has imposed since the emergence of Covid-19.

Also on Sunday, Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, denounced South Korea for failing to stop a group of activists from using balloons to send propaganda leaflets across the countries’ border into the North.

Such launches, a tactic often used by defectors from North Korea campaigning against the Kim regime, were banned by South Korea in March, on the grounds that they needlessly provoked Pyongyang and endangered South Koreans living near the border. The North cited the propaganda launches last year when it blew up an office building on its soil where officials from both Koreas had worked together.

Park Sang-hak, who leads a defectors’ group in Seoul, said on Friday that his organization had defied the launch ban earlier in the week, releasing 10 large balloons carrying a half million leaflets. He accused ​the South Korean government of “gagging” the defectors and denying North Koreans the right to know how their leaders were seen by the outside world.

Ms. Kim, who serves as her brother’s spokeswoman on inter-Korean issues, called the defectors “human wastes” in her statement Sunday, characterizing the launch as “a serious provocation” and warning that the North would “look into corresponding action.”

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Biden Invites South Korea’s President to White House in May

President Biden will meet with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in Washington on May 21, the White House announced on Thursday.

“President Moon’s visit will highlight the ironclad alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the broad and deep ties between our governments, people, and economies,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “President Biden looks forward to working with President Moon to further strengthen our alliance and expand our close cooperation.”

In an interview with The New York Times published last week, Mr. Moon urged Mr. Biden to sit down with North Korea and kick-start negotiations, calling denuclearization a “matter of survival” for South Korea.

Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, left office without removing a single North Korean nuclear warhead. Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, has resumed weapons tests.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan at the White House on April 16, marking the first in-person visit of a foreign leader during his presidency.

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South Korean Leader Urges Biden to Negotiate With North Korea

SEOUL — ​President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has a message for the United States: President Biden needs to engage now with North Korea.

In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Moon pushed the American leader to kick-start negotiations with the government of Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, after two years in which diplomatic progress stalled, even reversed. Denuclearization, the South Korean president said, was a “matter of survival” for his country.

He also urged the United States to cooperate with China on North Korea and other issues of global concern, including climate change. The deteriorating relations between the superpowers, he said, could undermine any negotiations over denuclearization.

“If tensions between the United States and China intensify, North Korea can take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Mr. Moon said.

work to achieve denuclearization and ​peace on the Korean Peninsula has since unraveled.

President Donald J. Trump left office without removing a single North Korean nuclear warhead. Mr. Kim has resumed weapons tests. ​

“He beat around the bush and failed to pull it through,” Mr. Moon said of Mr. Trump’s efforts on North Korea. “The most important starting point for both governments is to have the will for dialogue and to sit down face to face at an early date.”

Now in his final year in office, Mr. Moon is determined to start all over again​ — and knows he faces a very different leader in Mr. Biden.

annual threat assessment released last week, the United States’ director of national intelligence said Mr. Kim “believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power.”

But Mr. Moon’s team argues that the phased approach is the most realistic, even if it is imperfect. As his administration sees it, North Korea would never give up its arsenal in one quick deal, lest the regime lose its only bargaining chip with Washington.

The key​​, Mr. Moon said, is for the United States and North Korea to work out a “mutually trusted road map.”

American negotiators under Mr. Trump never made it to that point. Both sides could not even agree on a first step for the North and what reward Washington would provide in return.

real-estate and other scandals. This month, angry voters delivered crushing defeats to his Democratic Party in the mayoral elections in South Korea’s two largest cities.

That is a sharp turn of fortune from the start of his administration, when Mr. Moon parlayed a hair-raising geopolitical crisis into a signature policy initiative.

“When I took office back in 2017, we were really concerned about the possibility of war breaking out once again on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Four days into his tenure, North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could target Hawaii and Alaska. Then the North tested a hydrogen bomb and three intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Mr. Trump threatened “fire and fury,” as American Navy carrier groups steamed toward the peninsula.

there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” When Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met again in 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam, the negotiations went nowhere, and the men left without an agreement on how to move forward with the Singapore deal.

While Mr. Moon was careful to dole out praise for Mr. Trump, he also seemed frustrated by the former president’s erratic behavior and Twitter diplomacy. Mr. Trump canceled or downsized the annual joint military drills that the United States conducts with the South and demanded what Mr. Moon called an “excessive amount” to keep 28,500 American troops in South Korea.

strike a deal within 46 days of Mr. Biden’s inauguration was a “clear testament to the importance President Biden attaches to” the alliance.

Mr. Moon is hopeful about the progress the new American leader can make on North Korea, although any significant breakthrough may be unrealistic, given the deep mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang.

Mr. Biden said last month that he was “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea, but that “it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

North Korea has offered ideas on a phased approach starting with the demolition of its only-known nuclear test site, followed by the dismantling of a rocket engine test facility and the nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang.

Mr. Moon said he believed such steps, if matched with American concessions, could lead to the removal of the North’s more prized assets, like I.C.B.M.s. In that scenario, he said, the move toward complete denuclearization becomes “irreversible.”

“This dialogue and diplomacy can lead to denuclearization,” he said. “If both sides learn from the failure in Hanoi and put their heads together for more realistic ideas, I am confident that they can find a solution.”

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A Quiet Arms Race Is Rapidly Heating Up Between the Two Koreas

SEOUL — Pride and jealousy have driven North and South Korea to engage in propaganda shouting matches and compete over who could build a taller flagpole on their border. Now that one-upmanship is intensifying a much more dangerous side of their rivalry: the arms race.

Earlier this month, South Korea’s dream of building its own supersonic fighter jet was realized when it unveiled the KF-21, developed at a cost of $7.8 billion. The country also recently revealed plans to acquire dozens of new American combat helicopters. When President Moon Jae-in visited the Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world.”

Unlike North Korea, the South lacks nuclear weapons. But in recent years the country has revved up its military spending, procuring American stealth jets and building increasingly powerful conventional missiles capable of targeting North Korean missile facilities and war bunkers.

Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research group.

The two Koreas have long been locked in a perpetual arms race. But Pyongyang’s growing nuclear capabilities, coupled with the fear of a withdrawal of American troops from South Korea under President Donald J. Trump, added to those tensions.

While in office, Mr. Moon has increased South Korea’s annual military spending by an average of 7 percent, compared with the 4.1 percent average of his predecessor. After diplomacy failed to eliminate the North’s nuclear arsenal, Mr. Moon had to reassure South Koreans that their country was not a “sitting duck,” said Yoon Suk-joon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs.

Soon after Mr. Moon’s visit to the Agency for Defense Development, South Korean media reported that the weapon he referred to was the Hyunmoo-4, a missile tested last year. According to missile experts, the Hyunmoo-4 can fly 497 miles, enough to target all of North Korea. Its two-ton payload — unusually large for a short-range missile — could destroy the North’s underground missile bases.

launched a new ballistic missile of its own and said the weapon flew 372 miles with a 2.5-ton warhead. The test prompted Mr. Moon to claim the following day that South Korea had “world-class missile capabilities, enough to defend ourselves while abiding by our commitment to make the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”

attacked a South Korean island with a rocket barrage in 2010, South Korea demanded that Washington ease the restrictions so it could build more powerful missiles.

“We hinted that we might scrap the missile guidelines unilaterally,” said Chun Yung-woo, the national security adviser at the time. “We told the Americans that if we didn’t address concern over the North’s growing nuclear and missile threat, more and more South Koreans would call for building nuclear bombs for ourselves.”

In 2012, Washington agreed to let South Korea deploy ballistic missiles with a range of up to 497 miles as long as it abided by the 1,100-pound warhead limit. It also said South Korea could exceed the payload limit by several times on missiles with shorter ranges.

South Korea has since tested missiles with growing ranges and bigger warheads, including the Hyunmoo-2A, Hyunmoo-2B and Hyunmoo-2C. Once North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Mr. Trump lifted the payload limit entirely, making way for the Hyunmoo-4.

short-range nuclear missiles aimed at South Korea and vowed to improve them by making the warheads “smaller, lighter and tactical.” South Korea’s strategy of deterrence has been based on the belief that the best chance it has against the North without nuclear weapons of its own is to build up a conventional missile defense and deploy ever more powerful “bunker busters” to make Mr. Kim fear for his life.

When North Korea tested its intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, the United States and South Korea responded by launching their own ballistic missiles to demonstrate their “deep-strike precision” capabilities. In his book “Rage,” the journalist Bob Woodward wrote that the American missile traveled the exact distance between its launching point and the location from which Mr. Kim watched his I.C.B.M. launch.

collapsed, North Korea resumed tests in 2019, rolling out three short-range ballistic missiles that were designed to counter the allies’ antimissile capabilities.

North Korea’s old fleet of Scud and Rodong missiles used liquid fuel and lacked precision. The country’s new generation of missiles uses solid propellants, making them quicker to launch, easier to transport and more difficult to target. They also have greater accuracy and evasive maneuvering power that could confound the South’s missile defense systems.

The new solid-fuel ballistic missile North Korea tested in March likely evaded the allies’ radar during its low-altitude maneuvering, leading the South Korean military to estimate its range at 280 miles, not the 372 miles the North claimed, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University. Mr. Chang said the missile could also likely increase range and warhead weight because it was powered by “the largest solid-fuel rocket motor developed and tested in North Korea so far.”

The North’s ICBMs still use liquid fuel, which takes hours to load before launching, making them vulnerable to American pre-emptive strikes. But in his January speech, Mr. Kim vowed to build solid-fuel ICBMs, presenting an even bigger challenge for American missile defenses. Such prospects deepen the fear among some South Koreans that Washington would be less likely to intervene if it, too, faced a possible North Korean nuclear attack.

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When Anti-Asian Jokes Targeted BTS, the Boy Band’s Fan Army Mobilized

A parody on Chilean television of the Korean boy band BTS prompted an international backlash over the weekend, illustrating the power of the group’s many fans and a heightened sensitivity around the world to racist, particularly anti-Asian, speech.

In a short sketch on the show “Mi Barrio,” which aired Saturday on the Mega Channel in Chile, comedians satirized the South Korean supergroup, mocking the Korean language and associating the band’s members with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

Asked to introduce themselves, the actors portraying the band’s members gave their names as “Kim Jong-Uno,” “Kim Jong-Dos,” “Kim Jong-Tres,” “Kim Jong-Cuatro” and “Juan Carlos.” Asked to say something in Korean, one comedian spoke in accented gibberish.

Fans of BTS are legion and fiercely loyal. They quickly came to the band’s defense and linked the jokes to wider issues of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia that have flared since the coronavirus surfaced last year in China.

Korean pop music fans coordinated to embarrass President Donald J. Trump by inflating ticket requests at a campaign rally.

At a time of increased anti-Asian rhetoric and violence across the internet and around the world, “Mi Barrio” quickly became the target of a larger antiracism campaign. The trading card company Topps faced a similar backlash last week after releasing Garbage Pail Kids cards that were intended to mock the band but were widely perceived as racist and tone deaf.

Not confined to Spanish-language social media and BTS fan accounts, outrage about the “Mi Barrio” episode quickly spread across the web, with the hashtag #RacismIsNotComedy becoming the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the United States on Sunday night. It was an indication that thousands of people were discussing the term at the same time.

“There is NOTHING funny about racism, especially in a time where Asian hate crimes have been rampant around the world. This is disgusting,” wrote one Twitter user.

Chilean BTS fan account with 150,000 followers pushed people to register a formal complaint against “Mi Barrio” with the country’s National Television Council, calling on the regulator to “ensure that racist attitudes and stereotypes are eliminated from Chilean television.”

In a statement posted to its Instagram account on Sunday, “Mi Barrio” struck a conciliatory, if not wholly contrite, tone. “We will continue to improve, learn, listen and strengthen our intention: to bring entertainment to families.”

BTS has not officially commented on the Chilean episode, but in a statement released in March about increased attacks against Asians, the group said, “We recall moments when we faced discrimination as Asians. We have endured expletives without reason and were mocked for the way we look. We were even asked why Asians spoke in English.”

“We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I and we all have the right to be respected,” the message concluded. “We will stand together.”

That statement, released on Twitter, has been liked more than two million times.

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Oh Se-hoon Wins Seoul Mayoral Election

SEOUL — In his last year in office, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has seen his approval ratings in a tailspin. His trademark North Korea diplomacy remains in tatters. Citizens are fuming over his ​repeatedly ​botched attempts to arrest soaring housing prices.

And on Wednesday, voters in South Korea’s two biggest cities dealt another crushing blow to the beleaguered leader.

Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party lost the mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan to the conservative opposition, the People Power Party. Critics are calling the results of the two by-elections a referendum on Mr. Moon and his government.

“The people vented their anger at the Moon government through these elections,” said Kim Chong-in, head of the People Power Party, referring to large margins by which its candidates won.​

policy of engagement toward North Korea.

Wednesday’s mayoral elections showed that the Democratic Party faces steep challenges as voters once loyal to Mr. Moon — especially those in their 20s and 30s — abandon it in droves.

Oh Se-hoon, the People Power Party candidate, won the race in Seoul, the capital city ​of 10 million people. He routed Park Young-sun, the Democratic Party candidate and a former member of Mr. Moon’s cabinet, by more than 18 percentage points, according to voting results announced by the National Election Commission.

The Seoul mayor is considered South Korea’s second-most powerful elected official after the president.

died by suicide last year following accusations of sexual harassment. The former mayor of Busan, Oh Keo-don, stepped down ​last year ​amid accusations of sexual misconduct from multiple female ​subordinates.

The former mayors were both members of ​Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party and the president’s close allies. Their downfall ​weakened the moral standing of Mr. Moon’s progressive camp, which ​has cast itself as a ​clean, ​transparent​ and equality-minded alternative to ​its conservative opponents. Mr. Moon’s two immediate predecessors — Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak — were both conservatives and are now in prison following convictions on corruption charges.

Mr. Moon was elected ​in 2017, ​filling the power vacuum created by Ms. Park’s impeachment. As a former human rights lawyer, he enthralled the nation by promising a “fair and just” society. He ​vehemently criticized an entrenched ​culture of privilege and corruption ​that he said had taken root while conservatives were in power, ​and vowed to create a level playing field for young voters who have grown weary of dwindling job opportunities and an ever-expanding income gap.

Mr. Moon spent much of his first two years in power struggling to quell escalating tension between North Korea and the United States, successfully mediating diplomacy between the two countries. He shifted more of his attention to domestic issues after the two summit meetings between North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Donald J. Trump failed to produce a deal on nuclear disarmament or the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

But things quickly turned sour on the home front ​as well.

In 2019, huge outdoor rallies erupted ​over accusations of forgery and preferential treatment in college and internship applications​ surrounding the daughter of Cho Kuk, Mr. Moon’s former justice minister and one of his closest allies.

The scandal flew in the face of Mr. Moon’s election promise of creating “a world without privilege,” and prompted outrage against the “gold-spoon” children of the elite, who ​glided into top-flight universities and cushy jobs while their “dirt-spoon” peers struggled to make ends meet in South Korea’s hobbled economy.

won by a landslide in parliamentary elections last year as Mr. Moon leveraged his surging popularity around South Korea’s largely successful battle against the coronavirus. But Mr. Moon’s virus campaign has lost its luster.

In recent months, South Koreans have grown frustrated with prolonged social-distancing restrictions, a distressed economy and the government’s failure to provide vaccines fast enough. On Wednesday, the government reported 668 new coronavirus infections, the highest one-day increase in three months.

Mr. Moon’s most devastating setback came last month when officials at the Korea Land and Housing Corporation — the state developer — were accused of using privileged insider information to cash in on government housing development programs. Kim Sang-jo, Mr. Moon’s chief economic policy adviser, stepped down last month when it was revealed that his family had significantly raised the rent on an apartment in Seoul just days before the government imposed a cap on rent increases.

“People had hoped that even if they were incompetent, the Moon government would at least be ethically superior to their conservative rivals,” said Ahn Byong-jin, a political scientist at Kyung Hee University in Seoul. “What we see in the election results is the people’s long-accumulated discontent over the ‘naeronambul’ behavior of the Moon government exploding. Moon has now become a lame duck president.”

The real-estate scandal dominated the campaign leading up to Wednesday’s election. Opposition candidates called Mr. Moon’s government a “den of thieves.” Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party called Mr. Oh, the new mayor in Seoul, an incorrigible “liar.”

resigned as Seoul mayor in 2011 after his campaign to end free lunches for all schoolchildren failed to win enough support.

Pre-election surveys this month showed that voters who planned to vote for Mr. Oh would do so not because they considered him morally superior to his Democratic Party rival. Instead, it was because they wanted to “pass judgment on the Moon Jae-in government.”

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North Korea Bows Out of Tokyo Olympics, Citing Covid-19

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the 32nd Tokyo Summer Olympics because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The decision was made when the North’s national Olympic Committee met on March 25 in Pyongyang, where it decided a delegation would skip the Tokyo Olympics, to be held on July 23 to Aug. 8, “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” the Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website, said.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no Covid-19 cases, but outside health experts remain skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to meet to discuss issues beyond sports.

attend the opening ceremony.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as the signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Soon, inter-Korean dialogue followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met with President Donald J. Trump three times.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened its diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

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