Very uncertain timesWe wait with deep trepidation the outcome of the first summit between the globe’s two superpowers, whose leaders are promising renaissances for their countries under the parallel slogans “America First” and “The Chinese Dream.” The future of the Korean Peninsula and North Korean nuclear and missile threats top the agenda of the first meeting of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Seoul remains an outsider even as their talks will probably directly affect the lives of the Korean people. In normal times, Seoul officials would have been closely briefed on the issues to be tabled at the talks between the U.S. and Chinese leaders and their progress.
But Seoul suffers from a leadership vacuum after the removal of the president and ahead of the presidential snap election. So it does not have any say in ongoing discussions that could possibly involve a preemptive strike on North Korea. Some compare the current situation to the Yalta Conference among allied forces following World War II that led to the division of the Korean Peninsula. Permission for that was not sought from Koreans. It’s hard not to worry about the “Korea Passing” syndrome, where Seoul is neglected in major decisions by global powers.
Seoul officials did try to play a role. National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin spoke with his counterpart Herbert McMaster in the Trump administration. Our officials explained Seoul’s stance on North Korean issues to State Secretary Rex Tillerson and Joseph Yun, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea policy, during their visit to Korea last month.
Still, Seoul has lost influence. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who formed a personal connection with Trump through summit talks, had a phone conversation with the U.S. president before the meeting with Xi and pleaded for a joint front against North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
North Korea is ready to carry out its sixth nuclear test. Despite his campaign pledge to lessen American engagement in conflict zones, Trump Thursday night ordered airstrikes on a Syrian airfield to retaliate for a chemical weapons attack. His quick action suggests he could be true to his word of claiming the U.S. could act alone to punish North Korea. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have not been so high since the end of the Korean War. Senior officials must keep close contact with Washington and make most of the April 16-18 visit by Vice President Mike Pence.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 8, Page 30