With North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats escalating tension in the international community, candidates of the 19th presidential election in South Korea made their own campaign pledges about national security and diplomacy. Regarding his vision for this matter, President Moon presented “a strong and peaceful South Korea.” Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain.
The Moon Jae-in government seeks to realize a secure and strong nation which is capable of defending itself, addressing the North Korean nuclear issue, restoring peace to the Korean Peninsula, and enhancing national interests through confident and cooperative diplomacy. These are the new government’s goals related to diplomacy and security. By realizing the goals, the government is expected to play a major role in re-establishing South Korea’s diplomatic status.
When it comes to his North Korea policy, Moon will likely employ both sanctions and dialogue, in a major shift from the previous government’s hardline stance against Pyongyang.
South Korea is expected to play a more independent and active role in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue. The Moon government is likely to impose sanctions on North Korea in a smart and flexible way. If the North shows some sincerity, the South may slightly ease the sanctions. But it could impose even stronger sanctions if the North carries out further provocations. The Moon government will attempt to resume the suspended inter-Korean dialogue and place emphasis on negotiations, with sanctions still in place.
Some foreign media outlets have described Moon’s approach as the start of a “Moonshine” era, inspired by the president’s last name, “Moon.” The term is a new form of the “Sunshine Policy” which former president Kim Dae-jung implemented to promote engagement with North Korea. During the campaign period, Moon said that he would inherit and develop the Sunshine Policy in a strategic way to elicit a change from North Korea.
Moon says that he doesn’t want North Korea’s sudden collapse, or abrupt unification, but instead is pursuing gradual unification. His government will seek to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and sign a peace treaty with the North at the same time. If there is some progress in the process, it is possible that South and North Korea may increase their economic cooperation. For instance, they might establish a new economic belt on the East Sea and the West Sea. There is a growing possibility that security conditions in the region might be more stable and peaceful compared to the past.
Foreign media agencies are taking note that U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in have differing views on North Korea, since Trump is taking a hardline approach to the North, while Moon has a relatively dovish stance. The Washington Post commented on the opening of a new and potentially difficult chapter in South Korea-U.S. relations. The issue of the South Korea-U.S. alliance has now become an international concern.
South Korea is likely to reduce its dependence on the U.S. and reinforce its national defense instead. For that purpose, Moon has the goal of taking back wartime operational control of South Korean forces from the U.S. within his term. While bolstering its defense capabilities and relieving the U.S. of the security burden, South Korea may seek to improve relations with China.
Amid the strained relations between South Korea and China over the deployment of an American anti-missile system in South Korea, it appears that China is welcoming Moon’s election. Moon’s election victory has made the headlines in Chinese media outlets, which are expressing their expectations for a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue and an improvement in South Korea-China ties.
One of the main tasks of the Moon government is how to resolve the diplomatic dispute with China over the installment of the THAAD system. It is true that South Korea is suffering from China’s economic retaliation. Seoul may revive high-level economic talks with Beijing and hold dialogue between military authorities of the two sides. Of course, South Korea’s foreign policy is basically rooted in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. Still, it might seek security cooperation with China as well. The government will likely focus its efforts on this in the early stages of Moon’s presidency.
International attention turns to whether the new South Korean president will be able to ease tension in the region through cooperation with the international community.
I imagine Seoul will carry out its foreign policy in a more active and creative manner. For now, it remains to be seen how the new South Korean government will handle relations with the U.S., how it will deal with the THAAD dispute to restore friendly ties with China, and whether it can resume dialogue with North Korea. If the Moon government manages to fulfill these three tasks properly, South and North Korea could reinvigorate bilateral economic cooperation and create an economic community. Then, the two sides will be able to lay the foundation for the peaceful unification of Korea under the Moon government.
The inauguration of the Moon government in South Korea should hopefully pave the way for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and launch the start of a peaceful era in Northeast Asia.
[Interview] Festival Promotes Inter-Korean Communication, Understanding
On May 3, a special event was held at a school playing field in Seoul. The 2017 Grand Festival for Inter-Korean Harmony, now in its seventh year, aims to encourage South Korean citizens and North Korean defectors to understand each other and promote communication. Under the theme of “Communication and Small Unification,” this year’s event was co-hosted by the Korea Hana Foundation, the Seoul Assembly of the National Unification Advisory Council, and Kookmin University. Here is Song Jong-seop, deputy head of the International Cooperation Team at the Korea Hana Foundation, to explain the theme.
The theme “Communication and Small Unification” contains our hope that people from South and North Korea will work together to prepare for unification here in the Republic of Korea.
Starting with a football match, the festival featured a variety of events, such as a sports lesson with former national team athletes, a sports competition involving people from South and North Korea, a quiz, and a North Korean food event. The sports competition, in particular, proceeded in an atmosphere of feverish excitement. Here again is Mr. Song.
The sports event will remind you of a school field day. We arranged various games that people of all ages can enjoy. There were seven games, and some of them had interesting names like “Crossing over the Unification Bridge” and “We are One Family.” The names indicate our ardent wish for unification.
As total strangers played as a team, the participants felt rather awkward at first. While running and sweating together, however, they soon became friends and found themselves rooting for each other, shouting themselves hoarse. They all agreed that there’s nothing like sports when it comes to bringing South and North Korea together. Let’s hear from Jang Cheol-jin, a North Korean defector and manager of a football team consisting of South and North Korean players.
There is no concept of South or North when playing sports. Rather, we find that we are one. After the game is over, we don’t really evaluate which side performed better. We just feel that we are brothers who fully enjoyed the game together.
There was also a quiz designed to enhance understanding of the languages and culture of South and North Korea, which have evolved differently due to long national division, and to help the two sides correctly perceive the history that they have learned differently. While the sports competition and the quiz were underway, a food event was being held on the other side of the festival venue. This year’s festival was joined by North Korean defectors who run food trucks, as well as restaurant owners from a support group for North Korean newcomers. They offered North Korean food, which proved to be very popular. The one-day festival might be too short for the participants, but they could get much closer to each other in the course of playing sports, answering quiz questions, and sharing food. They were able to experience the process of attaining a “small unification” through “communication,” as the theme of the festival indicates. Quiz host Kim Hee-young and a participant share their opinions.
We might be thinking that unification is a long way off, but while watching people from South and North Korea asking and answering questions together and sharing their opinions, I thought we could achieve unification right here.
Unification is not just about unifying land but creating a community of people who have lived on this divided peninsula. In this sense, I hope people on both sides of the border will communicate, laugh, and cry together more often. I believe unification will come about after this process.
When the festival was over, the participants found themselves with a new sense of hope.
After unification, I will come back to my hometown in North Korea and run the same business I’m operating here in South Korea. I’ll probably promote South Korean food in the North.
When Korea is unified, I hope that a peace event like this will be held in Pyongyang so that many more citizens from the South and the North will get together there and create great harmony.
We’re looking forward to the day when those dreams come true.