In the past couple of weeks, the policy of commitment of South Korea President Moon Jae in with the North stumbled on a series of blows.
The United States confirmed that its President Joe Biden will not convene with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un following months of decision-making.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked on whether the diplomatic policy of the U.S. would consider “sitting with President Kim Jong Un” answered: “I think his approach would be quite different and that is not his intention,” referring to what former President Donal Trump has done.
Added to this, the North submitted its decision to pull off from this year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics.
The secluded state’s national Olympic Committee came up with a decision last March 25 that it will withdraw its participation in the games. A government-operated website, sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the decision was made “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”
Skipping the Games would be the first for the North since it also pulled off its participation in the same sports activity last 1988, which was then held in South Korea’s Seoul.
The North’s non-participation in the 2021 Olympics also stole Moon’s hopes to restart talks between the two Koreas, as well as the U.S. and North Korea talks.
Moon suffered more setbacks as his ruling Democratic Party was defeated by the conservative bloc, the People Power Party, in Seoul and Busan’s by-mayoral elections.
The capital city’s mayor, most of the time, is regarded to be the next powerful elected official next to the country’s presidents. According to experts, the by-mayoral elections is a poll on the current administration and a herald for the presidential elections next year. Seoul’s policy of engagement is at risk to be ended if the Democratic Party’s bets fail to triumph over the conservative’s candidates.
The country’s president views the holdups as a proof that the present engagement has no effect, or is insufficient.
The Moon government, despite being bombarded by misfortunes, continues its commitment to deliver diplomacy on its supposed path.
South Korea’s security adviser Suh Hoon, meeting his counterparts from the United States, and Japan, stressed the necessity of a policy engagement to denuclearize Korean peninsula. Apart from this, Seoul also aims to boost its relations with Japan’s Tokyo amid the chilled ties in the past years. This desire was made by South Korea in a bid to gain more voice to urge the United States to restart negotiations with the reclusive North.
Furthermore, the country was believed to have restrained response on North Korea’s first ballistic missile test in a year.
The test was used by Moon to encourage Washington and Pyongyang to resume talks, as it also presses diplomacy for the North to consider participating in the Summer Olympics.
Unsurprisingly, South Korea’s president’s determination is not perceived as normal, but rather, delusional.
But the president also has motives that drive him to persevere in sparking talks with the North. For Moon, connecting with the North is not regarded as a short-lived undertaking or something that can be trashed due to short-term interferences.
Moon, who served as an aide of ex-president Roh Moo-hyun who is known to favor engagements, understood the restrictions of short-term actions. The unveiling of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2004 was regarded as an important achievement of Roh, but its legacy was flexible.
The president thus aims to build an enduring “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” that would significantly alter the relations of the two Koreas in the coming years.
The declaration of the conclusion of the Korean War sits at the center of this plan. It also serves as an alternative of the truce with peace treaty.
This creates a reconstructive logic: involving North Korea is a neighbor is a better way than treating it as a foe.
The said permanent legacy would endure the presidency of Moon. Despite political party connections, it will also serve as a foundation for the next president’s approach towards North Korea.
In this way, fluctuations or the recurring rise and fall of the ties between the North and the South can be avoided whenever the Cheong Wa Dae is headed by another politician with different political affiliations.
The latest problems will not hamper the long-term plans of Moon but will serve as a proof that the efforts to engage with the North are insufficient or worse, is not of help at all.
Not enough engagement calls for more efforts while ineffective engagement demands reversal of policy. The president will not succeed in sparking talks between the two Koreas when his term ends, he still desires an expectation of engaging with the North in the future to avoid breaking of ties. It will, as well, pave way to lay down circumstances for innovations and to border against a successor from the conservative bloc.
Among the most significant happenings in Moon’s administration is his offer to co-host the Olympics with the North in 2032. His administration also thought of sending both the North and South athletes to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics using the North Korean railway.
Meanwhile, a video room is being prepared by the South to accommodate talks between the two Koreas in the future. The talks to be held there will be of quality as it will use “‘high-quality, full HD’ cameras, four ninety-eight-inch LED displays, booths for simultaneous interpretations as well as a system that allows Seoul to ‘use a separate network to communicate with a remote area.’”
The South Korea government, according to a report by Daily NK, said they are planning to use 398 million won or $361,945) on the new communication facility, which “will be added to the inter-Korean dialogue headquarters in the Jongno district of Seoul.”
Also, Seoul intends to send its remaining COVID-19 vaccines to the North. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun became the recent government official to voice the idea. He unveiled to foreign reporters that the South plans to share its vaccines to the North.
“The South Korean government has set its sights on inoculating 70 percent of the population by September and achieving herd immunity by November. Even afterwards, if we still have additional vaccines, we can share them with North Korea and other countries having difficulty securing vaccines,” the prime minister said. “We will keep this option open.”
He, however, said that no negotiations of the North were made about the planned donation.
Apart from sending vaccine donations, the South also vowed to create a combined pandemic response system with the North. These efforts can also be copied by South Korean presidents in the future.
Even without the peace regime, the Moon administration, notably, will attempt to secure the current agenda of engaging with the U.S. government and the next South Korea president. The future South Korean presidents will find the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement with North Korea still in place as the Moon’s administration has persevered to have it preserved amid that violations done by the North.
Furthermore, Moon will look for ways to make diplomatic impact between the North and the U.S. as he is still in the position. This is meant to secure that when he leaves his post, the engagement will still be in place.
This is believed to be the reason behind the persuasion of Moon’s administration for Biden to keep the diplomatic option open and desired for the North to join the Olympics in Japan.
Psaki said that the U.S. is ready to engage in some manner of diplomacy if it will result in denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, saying that the U.S. maintains its commitment to denuclearize the North.
“We have a clear objective as it relates to North Korea, which is denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” the secretary said in one of her press briefings. “We are, of course, continuing to enforce sanctions. We are consulting with allies and partners. We are prepared to consider some form of diplomacy if it’s going to lead us down the path toward denuclearization.”
It also appears that Moon’s domestic push is backed by more than 40 percent of South Koreans who think that urging the U.S. to stop its sanctions against the North is detrimental to make the 2018 summit agreement happen. The poll, which was conducted by the National Unification Advisory Council, further showed that 30.7 percent of the 1, 000 adult respondents cited talks with North Korea in the defense aspect to ease border friction. Some 11.6 percent, on the other hand, said the summit agreements can be implemented if “legal foundation” is secured, like the parliamentary ratification of the agreements.
As Moon nears the end of his term, time seems to not be his ally.
North Korea has a slim probability to engage in talks with an ineffectual South Korean leader. To make things worse, the current health crisis also became a challenge to Moon to reach diplomatic milestones. Despite this, Moon will maintain his push for diplomacy to make sure that inter-Korean relations will not die down in the future when he leaves the presidency.