In his address marking the March 1 Independence Movement Day, President Moon Jae-in expressed his intent to keep pursuing his vision of establishing a “New Korean Peninsula Regime” based on economic cooperation between South and North Korea.
He vowed to “open an era of peace and economy in the peninsula” and to “discuss with the US a way to resume operations of the Kumkangsan tour program and Kaesong industrial park.”
The South Korean president repeated envisioning economic cooperation with the North, just a day after the breakdown of the US-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Now is not the time to discuss inter-Korean economic cooperation.
The summit failed because North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rejected US President Donald Trump’s demands for steps to denuclearize fully and demanded effectively entire relief from sanctions.
Moon may know this well. Still, he vowed to discuss with the US a way to restart the economic projects, which require exemption from sanctions.
In spite of Trump cutting short the summit over Kim’s excessive demands for sanctions relief, South Korea’s president seeks to get sanctions eased for the projects which will benefit the North’s economy.
Kim’s intention revealed so far is clear. While he says he’s committed to denuclearization, the North is suspected of stashing its nuclear arsenal. Few South Koreans would think economic cooperation can bring peace even when the North is unwilling to dismantle its entire nuclear program.
An effective recognition of the North as a nuclear weapons state is unacceptable for a country whose people will live under a constant threat of nuclear attacks.
As the summit in Hanoi ended with no deal, no one will deny the importance of Moon’s role in facilitating future US-North Korea negotiations. His mediation must not be biased to the North. At a slight slip, attempts to rekindle US-North Korea dialogue by way of inter-Korean economic cooperation may undermine US-South Korea cooperation.
In his speech on the March 1 Independence Movement Day, Moon should have said loud and clear that complete denuclearization is the only way to get sanctions relief. However, the word “denuclearization” appeared just twice in the speech. Even so, he did not use the word to the effect of urging bolder steps to denuclearize. In contrast, the word “peace” appeared 27 times. In the current situation, peace is closer to a dream than a reality.
Moon vowed to usher an era of peace and economic growth, but it is hard to imagine how people in the capitalist South can live peacefully with the dictatorial communist regime in the North.
It is risky to believe peace will come on the peninsula if the South appeases the North economically even though it is unwilling to scrap its nuclear program or give up its longstanding strategy to communize the region.
This is not peace. Nuclear threat will not vanish under the pretext of economic cooperation.
Fortunately, expectations are alive for future US-North Korea negotiations despite the summit failure in Hanoi. However, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said after the summit broke down, “Our basic position will never change.” Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui suggested in a menacing nuance that Kim had “lost the will to engage in making deals.” If Pyongyang keeps this attitude, the chance of summit resumption will only become slim.
The rupture of the Hanoi summit taught Kim a lesson that there will be no deal, small or big, without full denuclearization.
At a time like this, the Moon administration must cooperate closely with the US, demanding Kim offer steps to denuclearize completely.
The best way is diplomacy of pressure and dialogue. Seoul and Washington must keep trying to create conditions where Pyongyang cannot bear sanctions any longer unless it denuclearizes.
It is the South that must make the strongest demand for denuclearization.
The last thing to do in the current situation is to rush economic cooperation with the North.