The real way forwardAchieving denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula will likely be a lengthy process following the breakdown in the second summit between the United States and North Korea in Hanoi. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, nevertheless, says he is optimistic about bringing about “a new Korean Peninsula.” In his March 1 Independence Movement Day address on Friday, just a day after the abrupt end to the summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Moon vowed to open a “new era of peace and economy.” He said he would discuss with Washington about normalizing the South’s ventures in the North: tours to Mount Kumgang and the industrial park in Kaesong. He said he will work to connect railways and roads across the border to bring economic benefits to both Koreas. Moon described an ambitious vision even after Trump and Kim seemed to squander hard-won summit momentum because Washington could not agree to the removal of sanctions on Pyongyang’s terms. Moon’s mentions of industrial and tourism ventures could not have come at a worse time.
Moon will have to mediate between Trump and Kim. But there is no rush. Moon should call upon Pyongyang to go nuclear-free for the future of its own country and the entire Korean race. But in his speech on the day following the summit, Moon spoke of denuclearization only twice. In contrast, he made 25 mentions of peace.
Moon’s urgent desire to bring peace and reconciliation of the Korean race is understandable. But even Trump could not make compromises with denuclearization — even at the risk of returning empty-handed at a time when he faces political crises at home. As long as Pyongyang does not fully surrender its nuclear weapons program, there cannot be any progress in the relationship with the United States. Moon must persuade Pyongyang that denuclearization in the sole answer. Pyongyang must be honest about its hidden nuclear facilities and hand over a list of its past and current facilities.
Moreover, Seoul must strengthen its communication with Washington. The Blue House was oblivious to developments in Hanoi. Moon and his secretaries were ready to pose in front of a TV applauding the televised signing ceremony that never occurred. The administration has fallen distant from Washington because it has been entirely engrossed with the inter-Korean relationship. Moon must meet with Trump as soon as possible and synchronize their policy on North Korea. He also must normalize ties with Tokyo to buttress the traditional ally front.
JoongAng Sunday, March 2, Page 30