The Korea Herald


Yoon Seok-youl hints at possibility of ditching inter-Korean military agreement

Conservative presidential candidate says he is open to summit with NK leader, but “not for show”

By Lee Ji-yoon

Published : Nov. 17, 2021 - 14:55

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Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap) Yoon Seok-youl (Yonhap)
Yoon Seok-youl, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, said he could consider scrapping a symbolic inter-Korean military agreement if there is no sign of change in North Korea’s attitude, adding he would not seek a summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong-un “just for show.”

“A promise can be kept when the partner keeps it. In the event I’m elected president, I would call for the North to carry out the Sept. 19 military agreement,” said Yoon, the front-runner in the presidential race, in an interview with local daily Kookmin Ilbo that was published Wednesday.

“If North Korea keeps asking us to cancel our ‘hostile policy’ without signaling any changes in its own attitude, it would be difficult for us to keep the agreement as well. That would mean a cancellation of the agreement.”

Asked if he had any intention to make an offer to meet with the North Korea leader in the interview, he asked back: “Is it necessary for me to make the offer first?”

“A summit could come when there is any sign of tangible progress in inter-Korean relations. I don’t see any benefit from just putting on a show. That may be what North Korea doesn’t want to do.”

The Comprehensive Military Agreement, more widely known as the “Sept. 19 military agreement,” was signed in 2018 during an inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang and is a critical diplomatic legacy of President Moon Jae-in.

Under the pact, the two Koreas agreed to form a joint military consultation body to discuss and oversee the implementation of a set of tension-reducing measures. But no discussions have taken place amid chilled inter-Korean and US and North Korea relations.

Yoon, a former prosecutor general picked by Moon, clashed severely with the president over a prosecutorial reform drive for months before eventually leaving office in March this year. Since then, he has emerged as the darling of the conservative bloc, winning the main opposition party’s presidential primary early this month.

When it comes to foreign policy, Yoon has spoken out against Moon’s policy of engagement with the North, saying no commitment has been made to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula under the current administration. 

But Yoon's heavy emphasis on the South Korea-US alliance has drawn criticism for dismissing ties with China, the nation's largest trading partner. During the Kookmin Ilbo interview, he was not shy about displaying his clear hostility toward China.

“The US is our ally, while China is a partner. And a partnership is based on mutual respect,” he said. “China is North Korea’s key ally. Isn’t North Korea our main enemy? We cannot make an alliance with a country that is allied with our main enemy.”