The South Korean government needs to go back to basics to resolve the complex issue of North Korea’s denuclearization in the aftermath of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that ended without a deal last week, experts said.
Following the breakdown of the talks, Seoul’s hopes that its push for economic engagement with Pyongyang would gain traction with substantial results from the summit were thwarted, as US-led sanctions will continue to remain, effectively barring inter-Korean joint business projects.
President Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)
Despite the setback, Trump’s nuclear standoff with the North may give the South an opportunity to bolster its position in facilitating talks between the two sides.
“It has become hard to expect immediate resumption of cross-border projects involving the Kaesong industrial park and Kumgangsan tours, but the importance of inter-Korean relations and the role of South Korea have grown (after the summit),” said Cho Han-bum, an analyst at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.
While on a flight from Hanoi on Feb. 28, Trump asked President Moon Jae-in to play an active role as a mediator by talking with Kim. During their two-day summit in Vietnam, Trump and Kim failed to strike a deal over how much sanctions relief Washington should offer Pyongyang in return for denuclearization.
What Moon should do first is meet with the North Korean leader at the earliest time possible to reconfirm how far Pyongyang will go in relinquishing its nuclear weapons and facilities, according to Shin Bum-cheol, director of the Center for Security and Unification at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
“There is a possibility that conflict could erupt between South Korea and the US if Seoul insists sanctions be lifted when the US is doubting North Korea’s commitment toward denuclearization,” he said.
Prior to requesting sanctions relief, the two Koreas should first keep pledges they made during the Moon-Kim summits at Panmunjom and Pyongyang last year, said Cha Du-hyeogn, a visiting scholar at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
He criticized the absence of updates and efforts in hosting joint cultural and sports events that could be carried out without violating sanctions. Such events include a Pyongyang art troupe’s expected visit to Seoul in October last year, and joint events to mark the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement.
“When you see the matter from the perspective of the international community, would you trust North Korea that it will keep its word for an important agreement when it reneges on inter-Korean pledges?” Cha said.
Despite skepticism from critics who question North Korea’s sincerity, Moon said in a speech marking the centennial of the March 1 Independence Movement on Friday that when there is progress in denuclearization, an inter-Korean economic committee will be established to produce economic achievements that benefit the two Korea.
While sharing his vision of a “new Korean Peninsula regime,” he said the country will play a leading role in creating a new community of peace and cooperation that will end confrontations and conflict within South Korea and with North Korea.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org