Both North Korea and left-leaning supporters of South Korean President Moon Jae-in want him to bring back economic ties broken by security tensions. But pleasing them would mean angering US President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, North Korea stated it was closing down communication links put in place a couple of years ago between Moon and Kim Jong Un, jeopardizing the South Korean leader’s 2017 campaign promise to move the heavily armed rivals toward a permanent peace. It’s bad timing for Moon: His ruling bloc secured a historic supermajority in National Assembly elections in April, boosting calls within his Democratic Party to mend ties with North Korea.
The problem for Moon is that he doesn’t have much he can offer North Korea without prompting a blowup from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly rejected South Korea’s calls for sanctions relief. America has refused to unwind United Nations penalties as well as other measures against the regime without greater commitments on arms reduction from Kim.
Woo Won-shik, a senior lawmaker as well as a former Democratic Party floor leader, said Tuesday there seemed to be an “urgent need” to revive inter-Korean cooperation, arguing that failure to behave now could further isolate North Korea and convey about a come back to the brinkmanship of three years ago. Kim earlier this season said he would soon debut a “new strategic weapon” — component of a bid to pressure Trump, who faces an election in November, straight back to the negotiating table.
“There a wide range of inter-Korean projects that can proceed without breaching the present UN sanctions regime,” Woo said.
The latest dust-up — triggered by South Korean activists who sent anti-Pyongyang messages in balloons across the border — comes in front of the 20th anniversary from the first meeting between top leaders of your divided Koreas. The summit beginning on June2000 and 13, was the greatest moment of then-President Kim Dae-jung’s reconciliation effort that generated stepped up trade and joint projects and helped earn the South Korean leader the Nobel Peace Prize.
While that “Sunshine Policy” helped cool tensions, it had been also criticized for providing Pyongyang’s leaders with cash needed to build up its nuclear weapons program. Smaller measures that may allow only a trickle of foreign exchange back in cash-starved North Korea also risk disappointing Kim Jong Moon’s and Un allies, who see their current strength in parliament his or her best chance to secure lasting change.
North Korea’s relations with Moon haven’t been the same since Trump walked out from a summit with Kim in February 2019 in Hanoi. The North Korean leader was pushing an idea backed by Seoul to quit his antiquated Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for sanctions relief — a deal that came nowhere near the Trump administration’s interest in the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
“It is a sense of betrayal and disappointment,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former analyst for your US government dedicated to North Korea. “Kim Jong Un feels South Korea has misled him into believing that Yongbyon facilities were going to be enough for a handle Trump in Hanoi.”
Afterward, North Korea has effectively ignored Moon’s requests for talks, shunned his offers for aid and test-launched new ballistic missiles effective at carrying a nuclear payload to all of areas of South Korea, where about 28,500 US military personnel are stationed.
North Korea didn’t answer South Korea’s calls made in the military line Tuesday initially ever since the inter-Korean communication link was restored in 2018, defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing in Seoul. “Inter-Korean communication line is a fundamental method for communication and ought to be kept in step with inter-Korean agreements,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said within a text to reporters.
A State Department spokesperson said the usa urges North Korea to return to diplomacy and cooperation. “The United States Of America has always supported progress in inter-Korean relations, and we are disappointed inside the DPRK’s recent actions,” the spokesperson said, talking about North Korea by its formal name.
Kim Jong Un may follow up his move to cut communications links with more missile tests, but making sure to avoid the wrath of Trump. The American president has brushed off shorter-range tests and credited his own diplomacy for stopping Kim from further tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles effective at striking the US mainland.
Nothing as serious as an ICBM test,” said Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank, though “Provocations like missile launches will follow. Cho added that North Korea also didn’t want to push Moon very far: “The South is knowledgeable that ending the inter-Korean relations is not really something that the North wants.”
Moon’s government said in late May claimed that it wanted to try to again ease travel restrictions and inter-Korean exchanges. An identical attempt in 2018 led Trump to bluntly tell Seoul that this couldn’t do just about anything regarding sanctions “without our approval.”
Members of the Moon administration have hinted that Seoul could act unilaterally to resuscitate inter-Korean cooperation, but that would come with the enormous risk of cleaving Seoul from its alliance with Washington, said Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. policy analyst who specializes in Korean Peninsula issues.
Realistically, he remains constrained in the way of practical measures South Korea can take — if Seoul were to be conscious of and concerned about its relations with the US,” she said, even though “President Moon can promise the North Koreans the earth.
South Korean proposals blocked from the Trump administration included resuming operations at a joint factory park from the North Korean border city of Kaesong and a separate resort at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang. Both were opened inside the spirit from the Sunshine Policy and later shut because of political turmoil.
While South Korea could win a UN sanctions waiver that led to the ceremonial sending of trains throughout the border about a couple of years ago, its humanitarian assistance has dried up under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. South Korea has sent more $3 billion of aid since 1995, but little of it has come under the Moon government, which sent just $12 million in 2017 and 2018, government data shows.
‘Bent Over Backwards’
Trade between the two nations has dropped to virtually zero from $2.7 billion in 2015. Alternatively, about 10% of North Korea’s economy. The regime took another hit this coming year when it sealed off its borders in January at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, which slammed the brakes on other trade with countries like China.
According to Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Asia and Nuclear Policy at the International Crisis Group, kim Jong Un believes he doesn’t have much of anything to lose by increasing pressure on Moon.
“North Korea is raising the ante, seeking to further punish, scare, and force Seoul to be effective harder to fulfill Pyongyang’s demands,” Kim said. “Kim Jong Un feels he bent over backwards for Moon, but believes Seoul has not reciprocated, has betrayed North Korea and the Korean race, and has no influence over Washington to deliver on its promises.”