Moon’s callous overconfidence
On one side of the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit on Nov. 30 in Argentina, U.S. President Donald Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood side by side. Modi mentioned a newly-coined term, JAI, and explained that it stands for Japan, America and India. He said the word also means success in Hindi. He said that the JAI countries share democratic values and should create peace and prosperity together. As if he was waiting for this, Abe said that the three countries should move towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.
JAI has become a new frame for the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific foreign policy. It was the highlight of the G-20 summit. Until now, the East Asia-Pacific diplomacy has been led by South Korea, the United States and Japan. Their leaders met frequently. At the G-20 meeting in July 2017 and UN summit in September 2017, Korea-U.S.-Japan meetings were held.
But they have now stopped. While South Korea focused on North Korea and went between the United States and China, South Korea was dropped and India moved in. The National Security Council meetings of South Korea, the United States and Japan haven’t convened since March. What path has Korea chosen? Does it really have a new vision that deviates from the existing Korea-U.S.-Japan frame? Can South Korea be closer to China?
Shortly before the Korea-U.S. summit on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires, the Blue House claimed that it would be an official bilateral meeting, not an informal one. But after the meeting, the White House said it was just a pull-aside. It was awkward. The formality is not important. But from the beginning to the end, the two sides were saying different things. I’ve never seen this kind of meeting.
Another issue is the content. The two leaders agreed to maintain strong sanctions on North Korea. Until recently, President Moon Jae-in urged Europe to ease sanctions on North Korea, but he has changed his tone. At the in-flight press conference on Sunday, President Moon was vague when he was asked about the change. Nevertheless, it is great that the administration’s approach toward sanctions relief has been modified.
On Oct. 15, Moon said that sanctions should be eased to accelerate North Korea’s denuclearization when denuclearization becomes irreversible, but I found the claim unconvincing. It will be natural to ease sanctions when denuclearization becomes irreversible. It may be rash and meaningless to mention an easing of sanctions in the future when not much has been done on the denuclearization front.
I want to add one more thing. The Blue House and Korean media say that Trump supports Kim Jong-un visiting Seoul within this year. I found this peculiar. But let me make it clear. The United States opposes our violation of sanctions, not Kim’s visit. Only Kim is reluctant to make a trip to South Korea. While Moon played a major in revitalizing the U.S.-North Korea talks, the summit is postponed to as late as February from early January. And these are just words. It is awkward to call it an accomplishment.
I was appalled by Moon’s in-flight news conference on Sunday. The president said that questions must focus on foreign policy. But when a reporter insisted that he wanted to briefly ask about domestic issues, Moon said he would not take any other questions and refused to answer. As the reporter still continued on economic issues, the president replied that he didn’t need to speak any further. It is great that the president is interested in foreign policy. But while he only took questions on diplomacy, the outcome was mixed. That is the problem.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 5, Page 34