Trump must reassure South Korea, says Hong

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Trump must reassure South Korea, says Hong


Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the Korean Peninsula Forum, delivers a keynote speech during a symposium Monday, jointly organized by the Institute for National Security Strategy and the Atlantic Council, held at the Seoul Westin Chosun Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul. [NEWS1]

Hong Seok-hyun, chairman of the Korean Peninsula Forum, urged U.S. President Donald Trump Monday to use his upcoming Asia trip to reassure Seoul and Tokyo that Washington’s nuclear umbrella over the allies will remain intact even if Pyongyang deploys intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) long enough to reach the U.S. mainland.

The remark was part of Hong’s keynote speech during a symposium jointly organized by the Institute for National Security Strategy and the Atlantic Council held at the Seoul Westin Chosun Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul under the theme “Peace: Exploring a Path for Cooperation.”

Hong, who formerly served as South Korea’s ambassador to Washington, warned that if Trump fails to allay Seoul and Tokyo’s fear that the United States might back down from North Korean ICBMs, each country could face growing domestic calls to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

“If President Trump uses his chance speaking in front of the National Assembly to confirm America’s stance” on the nuclear umbrella, “it would have a major deterrent effect against North Korea, as well as tempt the country to join the negotiation table.”

The chairman also urged South Korea’s political parities to unify their North Korea policies, saying domestic rifts will only fuel the crisis. Germany’s unification, Hong emphasized, was based on West Germany’s consistent policy on East Germany, one that transcended political affiliation.

According to Hong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s “hidden agenda” is to reach a “big deal” with the United States using its nuclear weapons as leverage, and chances of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula are rising as Seoul and Washington try to halt the regime’s nuclear race before Kim reaches his final goal.

“War is catastrophe, and South Koreans’ categorical imperative is to seek denuclearization through peaceful means,” Hong said, adding weight to President Moon Jae-in’s earlier comment that another war shall never erupt on the peninsula. “War should be the very last option, something considered after every other effort for peace has been consumed.”

In order to lay the groundwork for “meaningful talks” with North Korea, Hong suggested the Trump administration send a senior official or special envoy to Pyongyang, or perhaps meet with North Korean officials in a third country, and clarify Washington’s “four nos” policy toward the Kim leadership: no regime change, regime collapse, accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula, or a reason to send U.S. forces north of the demilitarized zone.

Nonetheless, the starting point of convincing North Korea to return to dialogue lies in the parallel pursuit of “keeping the doors of talks” wide open while adding “maximum pressure” against the regime to surrender its nuclear development program, Hong underscored.

Seoul’s role in the international effort to denuclearize North Korea is to act as some sort of “catalyst,” positioned to grease two-way discussions between Washington and Pyongyang as well as five-way talks including Seoul, Beijing and Moscow.

In this case, the utmost mission for Seoul is to cooperate with the United States at all costs.

“Increase the level of closeness between the head of states and maximize Seoul-Washington channels across all phases in the government,” urged Hong. “That way, South Korea will be able to catch signs from the U.S. early on and steer the country’s policy towards a direction that guarantees our national interest and security.”

“South Korea mustn’t give up on inter-Korean talks just because the North isn’t responding to the offers. Instead, [Seoul] should keep trying to reach out by fully operating all civilian channels there are, such as in the fields of business, culture and sports.”

Now is the perfect time to draw in Beijing’s help in solving the North Korea crisis because Chinese President Xi Jinping has entered his second five-year term. Trump’s upcoming trip to the region, Hong advised, should bring the United States, South Korea and China together in forming a joint strategy to counter the North.

As Moscow and Pyongyang appears to be strengthening diplomatic ties, Seoul and Washington should devise a way for Russia to play an active role in resolving the crisis, Hong said.

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