Moon’s main taskJoe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States in Washington Wednesday. We hope the new U.S. president successfully unifies a sharply divided country as seen in fanatical Trump supporters’ insurrection on the Capitol and rebuilds America’s global leadership.
In his inaugural speech, Biden emphatically said, “Without unity, there’s no peace, only bitterness and fury.” Pledging to restore “the very soul of America at stake,” he said he would re-establish alliances and engage in global affairs, a drastic departure from his predecessor’s unilateralism.
The launch of the Biden administration could herald a big change in America’s Korean Peninsula policy. In a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, stressed the need for a “full review of the U.S. approach to North Korea.” That suggests a major policy shift from Trump’s “top-down” approach.
Biden’s positions are already giving work to President Moon Jae-in. His replacement of Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha with Chung Eui-yong, a former national security adviser, is certainly related to changes in Washington’s North Korea policy. Chung brokered the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore, which Biden regards as one of the biggest diplomatic fumbles of the Trump administration.
Chung must address Washington’s distrust of him, fix the schisms in the alliance and not make the mistake of demanding concession from the Biden administration on peninsula issues.
Moon wants a summit with Biden soon. But what matters is the content of a message, not the timing. For a successful summit, Moon must convince Biden that his top priority is the alliance, not inter-Korean relations. An ardent supporter of alliances, Biden would have no time for leaders who disrespect them. Moon also must demonstrate his will to join America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.
For Biden, China is the top priority, not North Korea. If Seoul keeps talking about cooperation with Pyongyang, Washington will turn a deaf ear. South Korea needs to consider the idea of participating in the “Quad,” a security initiative shared by America, Australia, India and Japan. At the same time, Moon must improve Seoul-Tokyo relations given Biden’s emphasis on trilateral cooperation in Northeast Asia.
In a letter of congratulations to Biden Thursday, Moon expressed a determination to go along with the Biden administration. That’s a start. But what counts most is actions. We hope Moon gets on good terms with Biden as soon as possible.