President Moon Jae-in’s vision to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula faces a murky outlook, as North Korea is accelerating its pursuit to become a nuclear state, bolstered by its recent test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The liberal president unveiled a “comprehensive approach” to tackle the issues of denuclearization and a peace treaty in parallel during an address in Berlin on Thursday. He said he is ready to meet with the North Korean leader “at any time and any place” and “place on the dialogue table all issues of interest,” including the two issues.
Moon also suggested the two sides cease “hostile acts” such as the South’s propaganda loudspeaker broadcast along the border on the 64th anniversary of the armistice on July 27, and hold reunions of separated families on Oct. 4, which marks the Chuseok holiday and the 10th anniversary of a watershed inter-Korean peace declaration.
As a follow-up measure, Seoul plans to offer formal talks between the two countries’ militaries and Red Cross officials as early as next week, Unification Ministry officials said.
“North Korea should not hesitate and immediately respond to our proposal,” Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyun said in a speech Friday at the Hanawon resettlement center in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, calling it a plan to defuse tension and establish enduring peace.
North Koreans celebrate with a mass gathering and fireworks the test-fire of the regime`s first intercontinental ballistic missile, Hwasong 14, in Pyongyang on Thursday. (Yonhap)
With Pyongyang brushing off denuclearization calls, however, the initiative has a slim chance of becoming reality, experts say. Buoyed by Tuesday’s ICBM launch, the North is widely expected to clamor for recognition as a nuclear weapons state and direct arms control talks with the US.
Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies of Kyungnam University, said the speech would have little appeal for Pyongyang, as it simply follows the lines of Moon’s liberal predecessors -- Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae-jung -- who preached the Sunshine reconciliation policy, without taking into account circumstantial changes.
“What I’m worried most about is that the situation back then and now is drastically different, and whether anyone in the administration is capable of grasping and reflecting it,” he said.
“Both the ‘phased approach’ from a freeze to denuclearization, and the idea of parallel talks on denuclearization and a peace treaty are being rehashed after 10 years, but in an even less detailed manner. And now denuclearization and a peace treaty no longer bear equal value to each other.”
Kim Tae-woo, a chair professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, said now is the time for Seoul to examine its security situation and formulate its response between Washington, which may float military action on the North, and Beijing, which continues to protest the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system to be deployed here.
“Technically, we have to take North Korea’s ICBM capability as a done deal,” Kim said at a seminar hosted Friday in Seoul by the Citizens United for Better Society, a civic group he co-chairs.
“The North virtually declared to the South, the US, China and the world that it would go its own way, mocking the Moon administration which has proclaimed policy of dialogue, throwing a challenge to US President Donald Trump and showing its guts to China and Russia.”
Moon’s vision was also met with skepticism from conservative opposition parties, which blasted his security views as “complacent” and called any thaw with the communist neighbor “far-fetched.”
Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, took issue with Rep. Choo Mi-ae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea over her remarks during her meeting a day ago with Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong that THAAD’s efficacy is “politically and diplomatically exaggerated and overheated.”
“The ruling party’s perception explains why Kim Jong-un ridicules whatever proposal our president makes and rushes toward his goal of securing a nuclear-tipped missile,” Chung said at a party meeting Friday, calling the party and government leadership’s security views “dangerous and naive.”
The minor opposition Bareun Party’s floor leader Joo Ho-young echoed the view, saying Moon is making a one-sided overture while Pyongyang gives the cold shoulder in favor of talks with Washington.
“Despite being hit by the ICBM provocation just three days after his US summit where he said he would take the lead in inter-Korean dialogue, Moon still emphasized dialogue as a solution,” Joo said at a separate party session.
“Under the current situation, there is no way to bring the North to talks other than through pressure. I don’t understand the intention of the president who continues to speak of dialogue and inter-Korean summit contrary to the international trend.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)