Liberal candidate wins South Korea's presidential election

Liberal candidate wins South Korea's presidential election
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Liberal candidate Moon Jae In declared victory in South Korea's presidential election on Tuesday, ending nearly a decade of conservative rule in the country.

Conservative candidate Hong Jun Pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol Soo conceded Tuesday's snap election to Moon, who won more than 41 percent of the vote — a significant margin over Hong, his closest rival, according to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

The election, which follows the impeachment of former President Park Geun Hye in March over a corruption scandal, casts a shade of uncertainty over the future of Seoul's cooperation with the U.S. to rein in North Korea. 

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The liberal former lawyer campaigned on a platform of re-engaging with Pyongyang, favoring talks with the reclusive administration of Kim Jong Un, according to Yonhap.

He has also vowed to re-evaluate the deployment of the U.S.'s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system, which was moved to a site in South Korea late last month. The anti-missile system's deployment is intended to deter North Korea from conducting further missile tests.

"We congratulate President-elect Moon Jae-in and join the people of South Korea in celebrating their peaceful, democratic transition of power," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

"We look forward to working with President-elect Moon to continue to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea and to deepen the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries," he added.

Moon's victory comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. The U.S. last month ordered a naval strike group into the west Pacific near the Korean Peninsula in response to growing concerns over Pyongyang's rapidly advancing weapons programs.

North Korea denounced the move as an act of aggression and threatened military action against the U.S. if provoked. The threats and military maneuvers have put U.S. allies in the region on high alert — particularly in South Korea, which is within close striking distance of the North.

South Korea has long been one of Washington's most steadfast allies in East Asia, and thousands of U.S. military personnel are based in the country.

During his campaign, Moon vowed a more diplomatic approach to North Korea. But his message also addressed what many in South Korea see as rising economic inequality. Moon said that he would create hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs, according to Yonhap, and would introduce a massive stimulus package.

Updated: 2:03 p.m.