Moon is left to struggle
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
After hearing the news that President Moon Jae-in asked British, German and French leaders to ease sanctions on North Korea, but was turned down at the Asia-Europe Meeting last month, ruling Democratic Party (DP) lawmaker Lee Sang-min was angry. He wanted to stand up for the president, and he got a chance. A high-level German diplomat in charge of Northeast Asian affairs came to see Lee in Seoul, as Lee is the head of the Korean-German Parliamentarians’ Friendship Association.
Lee asked him why Germany was not supporting President Moon’s North Korea policy, as Germany had promoted the Sunshine Policy of engagement with the North in the past. But the German diplomat coldly said that because the denuclearization of North Korea was a universal and consistent demand of the EU, they could not end sanctions when North Korea did not do its part.
Lee said that if sanctions were eased, North Korea would acknowledge the effect of negotiations and denuclearize. But the German diplomat asked if he trusted North Korea, as the international community was deceived by Pyongyang multiple times. The German called the North a dangerous country. He insisted that sanctions needed to stay until there was progress on denuclearization. Lee said that something needs to be done for peace. The German giggled and snapped that European countries were more exposed to the threats of Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles, as North Korea is closer to Europe than the United States. “I have no more to talk about, and I am leaving,” he tersely said.
Lee was upset — not at Europe, but at the governmental authorities. Those who know about the atmosphere in Europe did not properly report to Moon and allowed the president to embarrass himself in Europe. What’s more frustrating was that he didn’t even have a channel to advise the president. As the Blue House controls North Korea policy, the ruling party lawmaker could not step in. During the Park Geun-hye administration, the now-impeached president respected the policy advised by the foreign ministry and did not modify it. But now, Blue House aides have almost full authority and the foreign ministry has taken a step back. Diplomats often say that many issues should be addressed to the Blue House.
I find the obvious friction in the Korea-U.S. alliance unusual. On Dec. 5, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said that a second U.S.-North Korea summit was needed, as North Korea was not keeping its promises. It goes directly against what a high-level Blue House official said in Argentina on Nov. 30. “As I have been watching Kim Jong-un for a year, he was keeping his promises,” he said.
During his in-flight press conference, Moon also said, “Korea and the United States had no difference in their position.” The president couldn’t understand why some reporters mention “discord” between the two allies in the press conference. South Korea’s National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong and Bolton are not talking frequently. It is different from the former administration. At the time, the Blue House and the White House, the foreign ministry and the U.S. Department of State, the defense ministry and the Pentagon, and the National Intelligence Service and the CIA had seven or eight channels running simultaneously.
Heo In-hoi — who is close to the current administration and is himself a former democracy activist — has some bitter advice. Part of the Korea University class of 1982, he was a symbolic figure in the anti-U.S. student movement as head of the student body. He was also chairman of a national student organization which organized the occupation of the U.S. Cultural Center in 1985.
I had a short interview with him on his views on the Moon Jae-in administration.
A. The current administration does not embrace the United States pragmatically. The Korean Peninsula is a multilateral issue involving the United States, China, Russia and Japan. But rather than looking at the reality, the government focuses on bilateral relations with North Korea. That’s not enough. The problem is serious.
Didn’t many of them work in the Roh Moo-hyun administration?
Yes, they did. But they still lack experience. Honestly, is there anyone who speaks English in the Blue House? They deal with the United States in a simple way. There are many channels in the United States, including rightist and leftist politicians, as well as civic groups, but they don’t know how to use them. In July 2007, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution on sex slaves during World War II. I was in Washington at the time, and I penetrated local civic groups through a grassroots organization and made it possible by pressuring Congress. I was an anti-American activist in the past, but I lived in the United States for three years and learned about the reality there. You have to know about the United States first to use it, but the Moon administration wants to use it without knowing it. As they don’t know anything, they focus on Trump alone. He is the president, but Washington doesn’t work by his power alone. The U.S. Democratic Party dominates Congress and interferes with him. The Korean government needs to approach the DP for cooperation, but I don’t see such efforts.
Did you tell this to former activists in the Blue House?
I talked to my friends in the Blue House in many channels. They say they are making effort. But the outcomes are amateurish. I am sorry for Im Jong-seok [current Blue House chief of staff], but I honestly think they lack ability. That’s why Moon is struggling all by himself. The aides need to take multidimensional approaches.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 32