South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump will hold their first summit in Washington D.C. on June 29 and 30. At the high-profile summit, the two countries will discuss international issues and demonstrate their solid bilateral alliance, possibly setting a direction on future relations between the two allies. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik from the Sejong Institute to explain the implications of the upcoming summit talks.
The South Korea-U.S. summit would mean the resumption of South Korea’s summit diplomacy that has stalled due to a months-long leadership vacuum. It is President Moon’s first summit with a foreign head of state. Also, it is a summit with the U.S., South Korea’s most important ally, with the South Korea-U.S. alliance comprising the basis of Seoul’s overall foreign policy. The highly important summit is expected to lay the groundwork for the Moon government’s foreign policy over the next five years.
The two heads of state are expected to discuss ways to further develop the bilateral alliance, fundamentally resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, settle peace on the Korean Peninsula, and promote pragmatic economic cooperation. Topping the agenda, of course, will be North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.
The North Korean nuclear issue is becoming increasingly important for the U.S., as the communist nation not only has nuclear weapons but is nearing the stage of developing a long-range missile that could hit the U.S. Following Trump’s inauguration in January, Washington seemed to be considering the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea. But the mood in the U.S. administration has changed of late. Trump has said that he is willing to meet with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the U.S. has no intention to seek regime change in Pyongyang. As the U.S. has left open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. could fine-tune North Korea-related issues relatively smoothly during their summit.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said that North Korea should denuclearize if the U.S. is to engage in talks with the North. The remarks came after President Moon expressed his willingness to hold unconditional talks with North Korea if it refrains from additional nuclear and missile provocations. Some are concerned that South Korea and the U.S. have differing views on North Korea, but most experts agree that Moon’s comments are in line with Trump’s North Korea policy characterized by “maximum pressure and engagement.”
I don’t think Moon’s remarks show a change in the position of the Seoul government. What he meant was that he would pursue small-scale inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation, apart from on the nuclear issue. The U.S. is also seeking to put pressure on North Korea but hopes to eventually resolve the nuclear issue through dialogue under the policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” So, South Korea and the U.S. are on the same page on the need to employ both sanctions and dialogue when dealing with North Korea, although they may have to coordinate when and how. I’d say that there is no major difference between the allies on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Meanwhile, American university student Otto Warmbier, who had long been detained in North Korea, died on Monday June 19, six days after he was sent back home in a coma. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement that the U.S. would hold North Korea accountable for Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment, with the American public demanding that the U.S. punish North Korea and get to the bottom of the shocking incident. Diplomatic experts predict that the death of the young American student may prompt the U.S. to increase its military pressure on North Korea rather than seeking dialogue. Also, there are concerns that the incident may affect the upcoming South Korea-U.S. summit.
U.S. chief nuclear envoy Joseph Yun held meetings with North Korean diplomats in Oslo and New York before traveling to Pyongyang to bring Warmbier home. People in the U.S. are enraged at his tragic death. It may sound paradoxical, but the situation is also raising the need for dialogue with North Korea. Therefore, the Warmbier incident is unlikely to sever North Korea-U.S. dialogue altogether or plunge their relations into a worse state. During the South Korea-U.S. summit next week, the two leaders will almost certainly see eye-to-eye on the need for sanctions against North Korea. They may differ in their views on the timing of the resumption of dialogue with North Korea, but they could reach an agreement on North Korea-related issues in a broader context.
Ahead of the South Korea-U.S. summit, experts are saying that South Korea needs to carefully plan a diplomatic strategy, considering that the summit will greatly influence not only the bilateral alliance but its relations with neighboring countries and regional diplomacy as well.
With the South Korea-U.S. summit a week away, North Korea may possibly carry out low-intensity provocations, like a missile launch, in order to increase its presence and affect the summit talks. Moon and Trump have various tricky issues to contend with. I think it is necessary for the two leaders to focus more on reaffirming mutual trust in their first summit rather than touching on all those issues. Moon needs to assure Trump that his view on the South Korea-U.S. alliance is not any different from that of his predecessors and that he is determined to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue in cooperation with the U.S. For Moon, it might be important to produce visible results at the summit. But I think building a close relationship with Trump will be another effective strategy.
The South Korea-U.S. summit next week should hopefully influence bilateral relations, inter-Korean ties, and regional diplomacy in a positive way.
[Interview] English Program Helps N. Korean Newcomers Resettle in S. Korea
On June 16, a North Korean college student was learning English from a native English teacher in a lecture room in Seodaemun-gu District, western Seoul. The English program, called “E++”, is operated by Serving Life International, which is a North Korean human rights group. The organization’s executive director Park Seon-young talks about what the program’s name means.
“E++” is an English class, but it’s more than just teaching English. The letter “E” stands for English and the two plus signs represent “encouragement” and “empowerment.” We offer mentoring and counseling services to encourage and empower North Korean defectors. We give them the confidence to become doctors, lawyers, or lawmakers by learning English. We help them reach the top of their fields.
The English school for North Korean defectors opened in 2009, and it has been run with the help of volunteer native English speakers who are interested in the North Korean human rights issue. The English program is carried out in various ways. Teachers visit schools for teenage North Korean defectors or form groups of five students to teach them conversational English and basic grammar. Starting this year, students and teachers meet one-on-one in a mentoring system that is tailored to the level and learning purpose of each learner. The English program is drawing an enthusiastic response from the students.
I was a third grader when I first came here and I started learning the English alphabet, multiplication tables, and the Korean alphabet of Hangeul. But my classmates had already mastered all of them. It was simply impossible for me to catch up with them. I thought I should give up. But while studying here, I began to regain confidence. Teachers here correct my pronunciation and they patiently listen to and understand what I say in English. I feel confident now and want to continue studying English in the future.
Currently, about 30 volunteers are teaching English. Most of them are English teachers from local schools or private learning institutes, and some of them are exchange students or foreign students who came to South Korea to learn the Korean language. Through this volunteer activity, they understand North Korean society, and recognize the difficulties faced by North Korean newcomers. Here’s Hannah, a volunteer from Britain, to share her opinions.
It’s been two months since we started meeting. We meet once a week for about two hours, usually in the evening. When we first met, I found that there was not that much confidence and that there was a lot of confusion. I think that there was a lot of struggle because she had been struggling with her university course. It’s only been two months and language is something that is life-long pursuit. So in two months, we don’t see big changes but I’ve seen enormous changes in my student’s attitudes, her confidence level and her approach to studying. And I’m just very thankful that it’s enjoyable for both of us.
Serving Life International is a non-governmental organization that speaks for North Korean people who suffer an infringement of their human rights. It also helps North Korean defectors’ resettle in South Korea. Established in 2006, the organization runs an orphanage in the China-North Korea border area. Here in the South, it is operating various other programs in addition to the English class. Korean American missionary Kenneth Bae serves as co-president of the organization. Five years ago, Bae went to North Korea for missionary work but was arrested for anti-state crimes. He was forced to work in a labor camp before being released in 2014.
I was detained in North Korea for two years. During that time, I witnessed how local people lived. After I returned home, I wondered how to help out North Korean defectors and contribute to the unification of Korea. Then, I found out about Serving Life International. I discovered that the group had been doing what I wanted to do. I thought it would be better to join the organization than to do things by myself, and the process would be a step toward unification. That’s why I decided to work as co-president of the group.
At present, the organization is busy preparing for an English camp program to be held in Jeju-do Island in August. The camp program is designed to encourage young people from both South and North Korea to learn English in a more interesting and dynamic way and to experience what a unified Korea would be like. The group is also planning on making its annual U.S. field trip program more special this year. Here again is Ms. Park.
The field trip to the U.S. aims to remind North Korean students that their English studies will not end in school and to motivate them to continue to learn the language. Many Americans support our group, and they were willing to help us organize this tour program. Participants visit universities in the U.S. and share their stories about the reality of life in North Korea in English. This year, we’re considering letting the students choose their preferred destinations in the U.S. and plan a trip themselves. We also plan on holding an English-speaking contest for E++ students late this year.
The organization’s interesting and instructive programs, including the E++ English school, will be of great help to North Korean newcomers who are nurturing their dreams here in South Korea.