Moon Jae-in, candidate of the Democratic Party of Korea and front-runner in the presidential race, on Sunday unveiled his plan to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.
He said South Korea should lead the international community’s efforts to denuclearize the peninsula.
In principle, the direction of denuclearization is right, but in practice, South Korea’s ability to lead denuclearization is doubtful. The particulars of his idea are loose, with some of them risky and questionable.
“I will persuade North Korea to come to the negotiating table,” he said. “I will not try to make North Korea act first, but try to make both North Korea and the US act simultaneously.”
His remark echoes China’s solution to North Korean threats.
China wants the North to stop developing nukes and missiles, and the US and South Korea to stop military exercises at the same time.
Moon said he would persuade China to reopen the six-party dialogue on North Korean nuclear program and persuade the US to do more to improve its relations with North Korea.
China is already seeking to resume the dialogue. The US demands the North scrap its nuclear program as a precondition for the negotiation. The North won’t give up its atomic bombs under any circumstances.
His plan to persuade the US to improve its ties with the North seems to be completely unrealistic, considering the US’ hard-line stance, threatening to act alone if needed.
His denuclearization concept looks like the aborted diplomatic strategy sought by the government of President Roh Moo-hyun.
The Roh administration, in which Moon served as chief presidential secretary, viewed South Korea as a balancer in Northeast Asia.
The strategy emphasized the self-reliance of South Korea in resolving its Northeast Asian issues, including North Korean threats.
Moon needs to adapt his denuclearization strategy to the current situation. The problem is the strategy does not address the role of China, a crucial factor in the equation of the North Korea problem.
Moon said South Korea should not rely on China, but China has much influence on the North as its ally and lifeline.
Attempts to solve the North nuclear problem by the South alone are illusory and even risky. They may foster a political climate that looks coldly upon foreign influences, including the US.
He should keep in mind that South Korean security is built on its strong alliance with the US.
Moon also pledged to seek mutual arms control between South and North Korea to remove the possibility of war, and also promised to seek the late President Kim Dae-jung‘s Sunshine Policy engaging the North.
He called for a peace treaty between the US and North Korea as part of a package deal to scrap all North Korean nuclear weapons.
Considering that Pyongyang has persistently developed atomic bombs and missiles, arms reduction and a peace treaty should be pursued with discretion.
A peace treaty requiring the withdrawal of US forces from Korea or unilateral arms reduction may endanger national security.
Moon vowed to push projects for economic reunification as a step toward political reunification.
Inter-Korean economic projects are necessary on the way to reunification, but Moon should weigh whether now it is time to carry them out.
China is putting pressure on the North by suspending imports of its coal and threatening to slash oil supplies if it conducts a sixth atomic test.
The US is considering sanctioning non-US corporations that do business with the North.
Moon’s denuclearization strategy should be based more on a precise understanding of the diplomatic reality than on the ideal of a nuclear-free peninsula.