The recent election of Moon Jae-in as president of South Korea has already caused leaders around the world to take notice. Unlike his predecessor, the new man in charge said on the campaign trail that he is open to dialogue with North Korea, despite rising tensions on the peninsula.
However, Moon’s ambitions could face some serious challenges. North Korea is adamant about not only continuing, but vastly improving its nuclear weapons program. According to several reports, North Korea’s latest missile test was a success, and it is rumoured that future tests could include a nuclear payload.
President Moon called the latest test a “reckless provocation.”
To his credit, President Moon went on to say that certain conditions must be met in order for the two sides to be able to sit down with each other for talks - namely the discontinuation of North Korea’s nuclear program.
According to South Korean defence minister Han Min-goo, North Korea’s nuclear program is “progressing faster than expected,” saying that the latest missile was “successful in flight.”
The test was also condemned by the United Nations, which has demanded that North Korea “halt all nuclear and ballistic tests.”
The latest move by the North presents a dilemma for South Korea’s foreign policy. There has been a lot of speculation recently on how President Moon’s election might shift dealing with the threat posed by the North.
Under the previous two administrations of Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, South Korea refused engagement with the North.
However, some say President Moon may revert back to a Sunshine Policy, as was the case under former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
Moon worked for Roh’s administration from 2003 - 2007.
The Sunshine Policy is based on three principles: armed provocations from the North are not to be tolerated, the South would not try to absorb the North in any way, and the South also seeks active co-operation.
It’s difficult to tell if a Sunshine-like policy can be implemented again given recent event. After a virtual freeze on relations over the past eight years, and with North Korea’s nuclear capability seemingly now on the rise, getting Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table may be challenging, to say the least.
There is another danger present with regards to the new administration - namely the United States and China.
President Donald Trump also said he would sit down with Kim Jong-un if certain conditions were met, however, this seems unlikely.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Trump administration would not insist that North Korea fully denuclearize before entering into talks. Tillerson added, however, that “North Korea must take concrete steps to reduce the threat that its illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and its allies before talks can even be considered.”
China has urged restraint, but as a result of the latest missile test, the Chinese are considering closing the Yalu River Bridge, which is responsible for more than half of North Korea’s trade with China, as a way to punish the regime in Pyongyang.
This could be seen as a step away from policy measures in the past, as China has provided inducements to Pyongyang, while urging Washington and its allies to practice restraint. However, it may be time for a change of strategy. North Korea would not be able to survive as a completely isolated nation.
According to Moon’s press secretary, Yoon Young-chan, the new president seeks “fundamental denuclearization through all possible means, including sanctions and dialogue, with the objective of the complete denuclearization of the North.” It’s the first time that Moon has made such a statement publicly.
For the moment, tensions are still high, and it remains to be seen who will make the next move. In the meantime, the situation will likely continue to sway between nuclear provocations from the North and threats of economic and other sanctions from the United States, South Korea, and China.
One thing is for certain - the presidency of Moon Jae-in will be tested in the very near future, and one can only hope that the result will be a lasting peace.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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