Bypassing South KoreaSouth Korean President Moon Jae-in chose the German city of Berlin — not Hamburg where he debuted on the multilateral diplomatic stage at the Group of 20 summit — to announce his policy on North Korea and inter-Korean relations after a state visit to Washington. Berlin was where the country’s first liberal President Kim Dae-jung spelled out his Sunshine Policy toward Pyongyang — a package of aid to bolster the North Korean economy in return for its promise to relinquish its nuclear and missile programs. Moon may have aimed to send a message to the world that he was formally reviving the good intentions of Kim’s policy.
Moon’s set of proposals to improve relations with North Korea and solve the nuclear conundrum through diplomatic endeavors contains inventive ideas based on the rapprochement legacy of former liberal presidents Kim and Roh Moo-hyun. Making “choices and echoes” of the policies of former administrations is a necessary step for a new government.
In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater, with his “choice” to steer a hard right course without “echoing” the views of mainstream Republicans, lost in the presidential election. Political experts advise governments to revive worthy polices of the past and choose new ones if the old don’t suit present times.
Moon’s Berlin initiative is an innovative choice given that it is based on the renunciation of a theory long held by Seoul and Washington that the Pyongyang regime will eventually collapse. He proposes to respect the Kim Jong-un regime and promise that Seoul won’t pursue any attempts to force its collapse. Moon invited North Koreans to dialogue without any suspicion about South Koreans’ aspiration to absorb North Korea.
Second, Moon declared a two-track policy to seek a solution to denuclearization. His policy is an extension of the six-party agreements in February 2001 and September 2005 as well as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s proposal last year of a parallel pursuit of denuclearization and a negotiation for a peace treaty between North Korea and the United States. Moon’s idea is refreshing because he proposes a breakthrough in the security dilemma by promising security to the Pyongyang regime and a peace settlement through normalization of North Korean relations with the United States and Japan.
However, his condition of irreversible dismantling of nuclear weapons — instead of a freeze or moratorium on the weapons program — could stop Kim Jong-un from accepting his overture. Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker believe North Korea’s weapons program is too advanced to be dismantled. They advise that the best option for the moment is to make the country stop nuclear development until its relationship with South Korea and the United States improves to the extent that it willingly dismantles its nuclear facilities and weapons. Their recommendation is the most realistic and feasible option.
But two days before Moon announced Seoul’s new policy toward North Korea in Berlin, Kim Jong-un tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4. The new missile — the Hwasong-14 — demonstrated a capacity to fly 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles), placing Alaska in its range. Kim was clearly provoking the United States.
Kim Jong-un faithfully follows his father’s advice to deal with Washington and not Seoul. Kim dashed Seoul’s hopes of improved inter-Korean relations and instead called for a one-on-one meeting with Washington. The North Korean issue has become a part of the power game between the United States, China and Russia. When Washington suggested a secondary boycott on Chinese enterprises and individuals trading with North Korea to mount further pressure on Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping bluntly told his South Korean counterpart that North Korea remains China’s “blood ally.” Xi joined Putin in vetoing a new set of sanctions by the UN Security Council following the test of the ICBM.
As Moon’s initiative was largely ignored, Moon must support the U.S.-led sanctions by insisting they aim at pulling Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. Seoul must persuade U.S. officials that sanctions on North Korea have had a limited impact because of a lack of cooperation from China and Russia. It also must convince Washington to stay on the peaceful track because a surgical strike could turn the Korean Peninsula into a war zone.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 29
*The author is an honorary professor of political science at Korea University.