Bypassing KoreaThe so-called “bypassing Korea” controversy reemerged with the North Korea nuclear crisis. The opposition party condemned President Moon Jae-in for not talking to U.S. President Donald Trump during his vacation. Despite the Blue House and the ruling party’s reassurance about maintaining the traditional alliance, Moon hurriedly held a telephone conversation with Trump on Aug. 7, on his first day back. The opposition party’s criticism targets conservative voters, and the Blue House is certainly aware of it.
There could be three types of “bypassing Korea.” First, South Korea may be excluded from the process due to the strategic interests of the Group of Two, the United States and China. It is the typical power dynamic that does not take directly involved parties into account. The New York Times reported on July 29 that former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger proposed the Trump administration have a prior agreement with China on the situation after the fall of the Kim Jong-un regime in Pyongyang. A former high-level official said in private, “We must assume that China would soon learn what we tell the U.S. administration.”
Another bypassing could happen when Seoul and Washington differ in their North Korea policy. The Liberty Korea Party’s Kim Gwang-lim cited former Blue House secretary for communication Lee Dong-gwan’s memoir on Aug. 4 as he criticized how Washington did not trust the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration. Lee wrote that during the Lee Myung-bak administration, then U.S. President George W. Bush said at a summit that the U.S. government would provide North Korea-related information to South Korea.
Last, North Korea could bypass South Korea and argue that the nuclear issue is between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea wishes to deal with the United States. directly. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said on August 7 at the Asean Regional Forum in Manila, “The nuclear problem in the Korean Peninsula is caused by the United States.”
These three possibilities have always restricted the scope of South Korea’s diplomacy even when the country has the 11th largest GDP in the world. Both conservative and liberal administrations have been anxious that South Korea could be bypassed if we’re not careful.
Moon proposed a comprehensive argument to prevent all three scenarios in his telephone conversation with Trump. He emphasized that a war in the peninsula must not be tolerated again. Moon informed Trump of Seoul’s decision to deploy four additional Thaad launchers and expressed regret that the oil supply ban was not included in the UN sanctions. Moon also explained to Trump about the need for a South Korean initiative in improving inter-Korean relations.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 10, Page 30
The author is a deputy editor of political news at the JoongAng Ilbo.