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Moon government fails to make progress in relationship with North Korea

Kim Ga Young  |  2017-08-23 16:24
August 17 marked the 100th day after the inauguration of South Koreas Moon government. However, the restoration of inter-Korean relations that it had previously claimed would take place is far from being realized. President Moon promised to resume dialogue with North Korea and improve relations with the North when he took office, but at present, the government appears to only be waiting for the North to respond to its suggestions. Analysts note that the government may have been too fixated on initiating dialogue with the North without giving much consideration to what the North seeks to achieve.

North Koreas cold response to suggestions for dialogue was expected from the beginning of the Moon government. The government has been trying to resume dialogue by approving a series of civilian visits to the North, but North Korea has refused all offers of humanitarian support. The South Korean government claims that it is typical behavior for North Korea and that it is in the process of establishing new North Korea policies.

However, the situation has barely changed after 100 days. North Korea has remained silent on a proposal by President Moon to resume talks between the military authorities of the two Koreas, as well as the Red Cross conference based on the 'Berlin Doctrine.' Instead, the regime has developed its ICBM arsenal and made provocative remarks. North Korea also maintains its position that South Korea should be excluded in the process of dialogue or conflict with the US. As South Korea has no leverage to persuade the North to participate in talks or halt nuclear weapons development, there are increasing concerns that the South Korean government is losing its position on inter-Korean relations.

South Korean government lacks leverage over the North 

It was believed unlikely that inter-Korean relations, which had been cut for nine years during the South Koreas successive conservative governments, would be immediately restored when a progressive government took office. In this respect, the strategy of the Moon government to leave the possibility of dialogue open without being publicly disturbed by North Korea's continued 'silence,' does not seem unreasonable.

However, many criticize the government for not suggesting specific alternatives while doing nothing but waiting for North Korea to respond to its suggestions. The government finally specified the condition that dialogue should be resumed only if North Korea stops its provocative remarks, but it has no effective leverage to coerce the North into ceasing its provocations.

President Moon has also been unable to present an adequate plan. He repeated his original position that, "Inter-Korean dialogue must be resumed, but the matter does not need to be rushed into," in response to a question asking about a strategy to break North Korea's silence during the press conference commemorating his 100th day in office on August 17.

"I think a red line must be drawn when North Korea completes the development of its ICBM and weaponizes it by fitting a miniaturized nuclear warhead to it. North Korea is getting close to the red line at present, so we should try to prevent additional provocations by North Korea at this point," President Moon concluded the speech by mentioning the unanimous adoption of the new UNSC resolution on sanctions against North Korea.

The Ministry of Unification is in charge of inter-Korean relations and has been offering the same answer to the same question. A spokesperson for the ministry told reporters that, "The government expects that the two Koreas will be able to openly discuss mutual interests when North Korea accepts the proposal for dialogue between the military authorities of the two countries and a Red Cross conference," adding that, "The South Korean government urges the North to positively reconsider the proposal."

"As clearly presented in the 'Berlin Doctrine' and in the celebratory speech for Liberation Day, the South Korean government is not following an antagonistic policy toward the North. We do not seek to make the North Korean regime collapse and achieve unification by absorption. The Ministry of Unification is sending a consistent message to the North to stably manage the situation and is continuing to pursue the 'Berlin Doctrine,' the primary North Korea policy of the Moon government," the spokesperson said.

The government should consider alternatives for dialogue strategy 

Analysts point out that the South Korean government has been excessively focused on engaging in dialogue with North Korea, but has failed to understand the Norths strategy and the general situation on the Korean peninsula. Some believe that the Moon government has failed to differentiate itself from the previous conservative regimes.

Kim Kwang In, Head of the Korea Advancement Association, told Daily NK, "The government chose a strategy of dialogue and exchange in order to ease inter-Korean relations, but this policy seems not to be in accordance with the current situation on the Korean peninsula. If the original policy does not fit the circumstances, one should find alternatives. It is a pity that the government is obsessed with dialogue with the North.

Kim Young Hwan, Director of Prepare for the Future said, "The Moon government took a relatively facile approach in analyzing the essence of the North Korea issue. It is practically impossible for the North Korean regime to abandon nuclear weapons through dialogue or negotiation. The government sought to follow an appeasement policy as its basic strategy along with some hard-line measures, but this is unrealistic at best."

Cho Han Bum, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, added, "Even though the Moon government claimed that it would steer the wheel of inter-Korean relations, there is no relationship existing to steer at all. Compared to the previous government that created a diplomatic and security vacuum and froze inter-Korean relations, the Moon government has been taking a relatively more stable position with a consistent policy, but it has failed to secure the driver's seat in inter-Korean relations."

Analysts note that the government should focus more on cooperating with neighboring countries so that it can secure the upper hand in guiding inter-Korean relations. They also point out that it should simultaneously attempt to synergize with the North Korea policy of the international community. 

"In order for the South Korean government to influence North Korea in any way, close dialogue and cooperation with the US should be a priority. The US will find it difficult to accept South Korea's suggestions if it focuses on policies contradictory to that of the US. Showing that the South Korean government is closely cooperating with the US could also be helpful in securing control over inter-Korean relations," Kim said.

"We need leverage to induce cooperation from the US and China. To do so, we must examine the feasibility of conditional nuclear armament and a basic strategy for it in case of an emergency. If we could move on to a step to 'consider' nuclear armament for security purposes without going over a line that would induce international sanctions, we can secure leverage over the US and China," Cho said.

Analysts also stress the need for a more accurate understanding of the nature of the North Korean regime. They argue that the government should take into account North Korea's desire to maintain the Kim family's dictatorial regime when forming its North Korea policy, distinct from rhetoric such as 'peace on the Korean peninsula,' and 'the restoration of inter-Korean relations.' 

An analyst who requested anonymity added, "The root of the North Korea issue lies in the system. It would be meaningless for the government to attempt to achieve denuclearization or reunification without a grand design to fundamentally alter the system. For North Korea policy to progress, the issues of nuclear development, the North Korean regime, and human rights violations must all be taken into account."

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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