Persuade the public firstThe Blue House plans to have the cabinet approve the April 27 declaration following the first summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to ready it for legislative endorsement.
The opposition is hardly likely to give its formal blessing to it when similar ceremonies were not held after the 2000 and 2007 summits. The Moon Jae-in administration may be aiming to ensure that the agreements remain intact and avoid the fate of earlier ones that were trashed by conservative governments.
North Korean leader Kim reportedly asked for a legislative stamp on their agreement made at Panmunjom, and Moon may be hoping to take it as a gift when he goes to Pyongyang next week.
But there is no hurry in institutionalizing the statement, which contains figurative and hopeful rhetoric rather than specific and binding details. On denuclearization, the statement said the two leaders “confirmed the joint goal of making the Korean Peninsula nuclear free through complete denuclearization.” There is no way for Seoul to force Pyongyang’s denuclearization through the joint statement. On inter-Korean economic projects, the two agreed on “comprehensive” cooperation.
If what was declared at Panmunjom gains legal standing through a legislative approval, Seoul can earmark spending for North Korean projects. Since the first summit in April, however, North Korea has not made any meaningful steps towards denuclearization. There are even reports that it has continued with its nuclear program.
A legislative endorsement on economic projects for North Korea amid little progress in denuclearization cannot win support from the public. As it has happened to previous liberal presidents, Moon will come under attack for being overly generous to Pyongyang and stoke division in South Korea over inter-Korean dialogue.
The government must not hasten the endorsement without easing lingering public concerns and doubts.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 10, Page 34