Jason Lim, a 36-year-old South Korean engineer living in Washington, thinks it is important to maintain a solid alliance with the United States — but not at any cost.

Lim and many other South Koreans say their country has been reduced to pawns in a superpower game of chess as the United States and China seek to tackle North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile programs.

That frustration — and a growing desire that politicians put "Korea first" — could drive a near-record number of people to the polls in the May 9 election to find a successor for former President Park Geun-hye, ousted in March over corruption charges.