Urgent fence-mending neededSince the breakdown of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, the South Korea-U.S. alliance has taken an alarming turn. After U.S. President Donald Trump stormed out of the summit in the face of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-baked denuclearization plan, sanctions will likely be reinforced. But South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants to discuss the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang with President Trump. Washington insiders are increasingly expressing concerns that another Trump-Moon summit can hardly be held under such circumstances.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said he does not have any illusions about North Korea, warning of its production of nuclear materials and missiles. He even hinted at distrust of South Korea. Asked whether Washington discussed with Pyongyang its move to restore a missile test facility in Tongchang-ri, Bolton said he was not aware of it, adding that Seoul instead might have talked with Pyongyang about the issue.
Another problem is Kim’s effort to reinforce his nuclear armaments. U.S. intelligence agencies have reportedly briefed Trump about the possibility of North Korea producing enough plutonium and highly-enriched uranium to make six nuclear warheads even during denuclearization talks. Last week, our National Intelligence Service confirmed the North’s move to restore the Tongchang-ri missile test site. Bolton said it will take quite a long period of time to have a third U.S.-North summit.
Nevertheless, the Moon administration blindly trusts the Kim regime’s sincerity about denuclearization. That is fuelling Uncle Sam’s distrust in its ally. South Korea, as well as the international community, wants to see a nuclear-free North Korea. But the “phased denuclearization” proposed by Pyongyang can hardly lead to complete denuclearization. Security experts say that North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear state and enter nuclear reduction talks with the United States. That is why Trump wanted a “big deal” with Kim to remove all his nuclear capabilities. South Korea believes even a small deal is better than “no deal.”
The discrepancy does not end there: Trump’s threat to reconsider our share of defense cost signals dark clouds ahead. A lack of chemistry between Trump and Moon may have cost us joint military exercises. Seoul-Tokyo and Seoul-Beijing ties have yet to be recovered. In such a volatile situation, our government must exert all diplomatic efforts to put the alliance back on track.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 12, Page 30