How far can Moon’s North Korea visit go?

By Li Jiacheng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/18 19:33:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in flew to Pyongyang for visit. Although two summits have been held between leaders from South Korea and North Korea, the latest has still caught global attention. From the very beginning, the two leaders met directly and discussed how to further improve inter-Korean ties, how to promote denuclearization talks between North Korea and the US, and how to eliminate military tensions and avoid risks of war.

Moon was former president Roh Moo-hyun's chief presidential secretary and close aide in the Blue House. When Roh visited North Korea in 2007, Moon had to stay behind at the Blue House and could not accompany the visit, which became a regret for Moon, the son of a North Korean refugee.

During the first summit, Moon stayed shortly in North Korea on his first official visit, 11 years after Roh's visit.

Last time it was one day. The meeting this time will run three days. Both sides are expected to talk in a frank and sincere manner and are dedicated to constructing a long-lasting peace mechanism free from the international situation so as to eradicate the possibilities of military clashes between the two sides.

There will be probably no bilateral declarations or agreement. The two may focus on how to gradually implement the Panmunjom Declaration and lay a solid foundation for bilateral ties.

The significance of the summit is that it will set the course for denuclearization and find a breakthrough for the current deadlock. The historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump paved the way for some progress in the denuclearization of the peninsula and relations between Pyongyang and Washington. But soon afterward the progress came to a halt.

North Korea demanded an official end to the Korean War (1950-53) and called on the US to drop sanctions, but the US requested North Korea undertake new denuclearization measures. The two are now locked in disagreement and neither wants to compromise. The outside world is expecting Moon to mediate between Pyongyang and Washington.

The highlight of the latest Moon-Kim summit is what measures Moon will propose to promote denuclearization talks between North Korea and the US and so bridge differences between the two. It is expected Moon will offer a creative denuclearization arbitration plan which requires North Korea to report its nuclear situation and receive supervision from the international community. That should make the US end its opposition and be willing to announce the end of the war.

All stakeholders have realized that a peace treaty is only a political declaration that can ensure North Korea's denuclearization and the construction of a peace mechanism. Signing a peace treaty does not mean the end of the alliance of Seoul and Washington or the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.

If North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons, the US has to drop its sanctions. Only when the two sides trust each other can they find common ground in the denuclearization measures proposed by the US and the security concerns of North Korea.

The pace of thawing ties between the two Koreas is faster than the speed of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, which has drawn ire from the US. Right before Moon headed for Pyongyang, a fractious UN Security Council meeting was held in New York during which Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, accused Russia of "cheating" international sanctions against North Korea in a bid to choke the country's nuclear and missile programs. If denuclearization makes progress, the conditions for the advancement of South-North ties will be ripe.

Moon's Pyongyang tour will create a peaceful atmosphere on the peninsula and inject new momentum into the denuclearization process and peace mechanism. Kim has extended his will for another summit with Trump through a "very warm, very positive" letter and the White House is looking at scheduling. It seems that the third Moon-Kim summit is the prelude to a second Trump-Kim meeting.

The author is a research fellow at the research center for economies and politics of transitional countries, Liaoning University.

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