South Korea, the U.S., China and Japan have wrapped up their summit diplomacy aimed at finding a breakthrough in the North Korea nuclear issue. During U.S. President Donald Trump’s Asian tour, the Japan-U.S. summit was held on November 6, the South Korea-U.S. summit took place the following day, and the South Korea-China summit and the China-Japan summit were held on November 11. The series of summit talks reaffirmed the principle of placing maximum pressure on North Korea to draw the country to dialogue. Experts agree that the four countries highlighted their common views while minimizing their differences to speak with one voice on the need for pressure on North Korea. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to evaluate the result of the recent summit diplomacy involving the four countries.
Following his Northeast Asian tour, Trump visited Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, summit and also traveled to the Philippines for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, summit and related meetings. In the meantime, the South Korea-China summit took place. On a positive note, it is believed that the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula have improved a bit in the process, and there is a growing possibility of talks among the nations about the North Korean nuclear issue. Trump showed his commitment to both pressure and dialogue, and Japan focused more on pressure, as expected. But South Korea and China apparently opted for dialogue. The involved countries are likely to lead North Korea to dialogue amid stronger international sanctions and pressure on the North. In brief, the four countries have formed diplomatic conditions where dialogue and pressure could be employed in a more balanced way.
During the latest South Korea-U.S. summit, the third of its kind since the Moon Jae-in government took office, South Korea did not overtly advocate the need for dialogue with North Korea, while Trump refrained from making aggressive comments. In doing so, the two sides dismissed prior concerns over a discord between the allies over their North Korea policy. In a joint press release on November 8, the two presidents reaffirmed their full support and commitment to the coordinated global pressure to bring North Korea back to authentic and credible denuclearization talks. On a similar note, the following China-U.S. summit in Beijing did not reveal differing views between the two leaders. In a joint press conference after the summit, Trump said that the U.S. and China agree on the full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea, and Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to strictly implement the resolutions. Although the two sides may differ in the intensity of sanctions on North Korea, they seem to have focused on their common ground, that is, the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The annual U.S. trade deficit with China has reached a whopping 350 billion US dollars. Citing the huge trade deficit, the U.S., which maintains dominance over China in terms of national power, has been expected to penalize China in trade by perhaps imposing a secondary boycott unless China shows a more sincere attitude toward the North Korean nuclear issue. But at the latest summit between the two superpowers, China offered commercial contracts worth 250 billion dollars with the U.S. In response, Trump refrained from mentioning the issues like the secondary boycott, suspension of China’s oil exports to North Korea, and repatriation of all North Korean workers in China. He only talked about the need for China’s stronger pressure on the North and some financial sanctions. Moreover, he also left room for dialogue and negotiations, along with sanctions, in regards to the nuclear standoff.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a summit with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam, on November 11. The two leaders officially restored bilateral relations by putting an end to their conflict over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system in South Korea. They agreed to strengthen communication and cooperation to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, the top common issue of the two sides. Moon and Xi shared the view on the need to stably manage the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula and solve the nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue. On November 13, the South Korean president also held a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and reaffirmed the principle of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Both South Korea and China saw eye to eye on a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear issue through dialogue, and they agreed to expand their practical cooperation during the meeting between Moon and Xi in Vietnam and the talks between Moon and Li in the Philippines. In particular, Moon and Li promised to actively work to create dialogue momentum for the nuclear issue and come up with a creative solution. During the two high-profile meetings between South Korea and China, the two countries agreed to restore ties in all areas, including the nuclear issue as well as economic and cultural cooperation.
With South Korea-China relations on the road to recovery, attention turns to whether China will play a role in imposing stronger sanctions on North Korea.
Before starting his second term in office, Xi Jinping had to prepare for the major party congress for more than six months. Also, the Trump administration urged China to get tough on North Korea, even considering a secondary boycott toward China. Therefore, China couldn’t afford to play a mediating role in inducing North Korea to come to the dialogue table. But now, Xi has solidified his power base and ensured that Trump would keep the door open for dialogue during the recent China-U.S. summit, although he still promised to intensify some sanctions on North Korea. So, along with great pressure, China is expected to play a more active role in persuading North Korea to rejoin dialogue and strengthening bilateral relations to promote regional peace.
As of November 14, North Korea has refrained from provocations for 60 days since it test-fired its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile on September 15. Chief U.S. nuclear envoy Joseph Yun told the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations last month that if North Korea stopped nuclear and missile testing for about 60 days, it would be a signal indicating the need to resume direct talks with Pyongyang. North Korea’s prolonged silence is raising hopes that the vicious circle of its provocations, strong sanctions and subsequent provocations may be coming to an end. But some other analysts are saying that there is still a possibility of North Korea making additional provocations.
North Korea may have waited for China, which accounts for 90 percent of its foreign trade, to finish some necessary procedures in domestic politics. Also, North Korea had to watch the negotiations between China and the U.S. over the nuclear issue, as its external environment depends heavily on the two major powers, or G2. Furthermore, three U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups have recently been deployed near the Korean Peninsula to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan. If North Korea launches a provocation in this situation, it may face a strong military response. For these reasons, North Korea has not conducted any provocations for about two months. The North is reportedly sending a message to the U.S., hoping for dialogue, through Choi Son-hui, who is in charge of U.S. affairs in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. Pyongyang may or may not push for a fresh provocation, depending on leader Kim Jong-un’s strategic decision on whether his nation will seek dialogue after completing nuclear armament.
Through a recent series of summit talks involving South Korea, the U.S., China and Japan, the four countries have urged North Korea to make a wise decision. How North Korea may act will likely determine whether to ease tension in the region.
Experts estimate that it will take one or two years at the most for North Korea to field nuclear weapons for actual warfare. It is highly possible that the North will seek dialogue only after it completes its nuclear and missile programs. But it is questionable if the U.S. will respond to the dialogue offer. Kim Jong-un is at the crossroads of the toughest-ever pressure and dialogue surrounding the nuclear issue. Given North Korea’s national power, the North Korean leader may consider negotiations, rather than facing another major crisis, even though it may not be the ultimate solution he wants. If so, I guess a phase for negotiations may resume.
Countries involving the North Korean nuclear issue have ended their summit diplomacy. It remains to be seen how these countries will flesh out their North Korea policy in the future.
[Interview] Defector Dreams of Becoming Professor of Beauty Studies
There is a coffee shop named “Gildongmu,” meaning “traveling companion,” in Jongno-gu District, central Seoul. It doesn’t look any different from ordinary coffee shops, but a sign installed on the counter draws attention. It reads, “The proceeds from the coffee shop are all used to support North Korean defectors’ self-reliance.” As the sign indicates, this café helps North Korean newcomers, especially young people, stand on their own two feet. Let’s hear from manager Choi Gwang-seon.
This coffee shop was created to help the newcomers achieve economic independence. For that purpose, we teach them how to brew coffee. Once they have the skill, they can get a job at other coffee shops and see a wider world to learn how to resettle in South Korea. Now, young people are working here. They will hopefully be able to run their own businesses later.
The coffee shop is run by a private organization with the same name, Gildongmu. It was approved by the Unification Ministry in 2010 as a group for inter-Korean projects for the disabled, and it sent wheelchairs, hearing aids and artificial limbs to the physically challenged in North Korea. Unfortunately, it became difficult to provide direct aid to the North due to strained relations between South and North Korea. So the group began to run a coffee shop in June this year to help out North Korean defectors living in the South. Here’s the group’s executive secretary Bae Hyun-seong.
We heard there are more than 30-thousand North Korean defectors in South Korea. For the newcomers, economic difficulties and resettlement are the most challenging part. We wondered how to help them economically and encourage them to meet with many South Korean citizens. We thought a coffee shop would serve the purposes, so we started the business.
The sign of the coffee shop shows the phrase “Campus 1.” It means a place for learning about South Korean society in an economic way. Here, teenage defectors from North Korea receive rigorous training to become a barista.
I knew nothing whatsoever about coffee, and I didn’t drink coffee, either. But the manager was kind enough to print materials, and I brought them home to study. I practiced brewing coffee at the store. Now, I’m confident in my ability to brew coffee. I remember coffee here was more delicious than that offered in other places.
At present, two North Korean youngsters work at the coffee shop under manager Choi. They are part-timers, but their working conditions are better than the ones set by employment law. The store provides them with the benefits in the hopes that they can exercise the rights they are entitled to in South Korea. Here again is Mr. Bae.
We decided to give them everything, including an hourly wage, on favorable terms that are even better than the ones stipulated by law. For example, North Korean part-timers here can take one more day off if they work five days in a row, and their hourly wage is higher than that set by law. We hoped they would experience a capitalistic society in a proper way. Also, we wanted to show them that they could enjoy working at a place that represents an ideal profit structure and a win-win business model in South Korea.
It’s been about five months since the coffee shop opened. The rumor of the tasty coffee here spread by word of mouth and the number of customers has been on the rise. The new baristas from North Korea are becoming increasingly satisfied with their job. Mr. Bae continues.
We can notice a change in a person just by looking at his or her face. The North Korean workers here have changed a lot, compared to early June when the shop opened. Now, they seem to be more relaxed when serving customers, and their faces have become much softer. They are quite satisfied with their wage and working conditions. From their facial expressions and attitude toward the manager or me, I can see they feel very comfortable.
Witnessing their change, manager Choi expects that these efforts will naturally lead to an improvement in relations between South and North Korea.
People in South and North Korea have lived in completely different societies, so it’s no wonder they have different or even conflicting ideas. But if the new settlers from North Korea understand South Korea correctly, I believe they can play a bridging role in connecting the two sides after unification.
It makes us feel excited just imagining that baristas here will open their own coffee shops in their hometowns in North Korea after unification. The coffee shop plans to open its branches nationwide and let the North Korean baristas trained here work as managers at the branches. Let’s hear again from Mr. Bae.
We have a goal of opening coffee shops with the same purpose in five major cities. Many people show an interest in this business and we have a lot of inquiries. Baristas here are supposed to get training as part-timers between six months and one year but they will work as managers at Campus 2, 3 and more.