New approach neededPresident Moon Jae-in is carefully weighing the ramifications of the collapse of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. Fortunately, Washington and Pyongyang do not want their denuclearization talks to go down the drain. Yet South Korea has certainly renewed trouble trying to play a mediating role between North Korea and the United States.
Moon hurriedly sent Lee Do-hoon, the special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, to Russia to help break the deadlock. But confusion prevails in the government, as seen in demands for reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and restarting Mount Kumgang tours, and a call for sending an envoy to Pyongyang.
U.S.-North relations worsened after North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui’s remarks suggesting the resumption of nuclear and missile tests. In reaction, Mick Mulvaney, U.S. President Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff, said that if North Korea puts those threats into action, Trump would be disappointed as it would be a “breach of trust.” On the same day, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton pointed to Pyongyang’s lack of will to denuclearize.
Under such hostile circumstances, a proposal to restart the joint industrial park and tours to Mount Kumgang is undesirable, as any easing of sanctions would make denuclearization talks futile.
North Korea is suspected of producing nuclear materials and restoring missile test sites even during the denuclearization talks. If South Korea rushes to ease sanctions, any entities involved, including banks and companies, are subject to a secondary boycott. That will damage our government’s credibility as a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang.
The Moon administration must play the role of the messenger. To do that, it must first find out what Washington and Pyongyang really want from each other. Moon must gather intelligence from the National Intelligence Service, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy in Washington as well. At the same time, he must ask China and Russia to persuade North Korea to return to dialogue.
South Korea must convince North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that this is his last chance to develop the economy in exchange for denuclearization. South Korea must persuade him to make a bold decision by using China and Russia as leverage.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 19, Page 34