Both North Korea and left-leaning supporters of South Korean President Moon Jae-in want him to restore economic ties broken by security tensions. But pleasing them would mean angering US President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, North Korea said it was closing down communication links create two years ago between Moon and Kim Jong Un, jeopardizing the South Korean leader’s 2017 campaign promise to move the heavily armed rivals toward a lasting peace. It’s bad timing for Moon: His ruling bloc secured a historic supermajority in National Assembly elections in April, boosting calls within his Democratic Party to mend ties with North Korea.
The problem for Moon is that he doesn’t have much he can offer North Korea without prompting a blowup from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly rejected South Korea’s calls for sanctions relief. America has refused to chill out United Nations penalties as well as other measures versus the regime without greater commitments on arms reduction from Kim.
Woo Won-shik, a senior lawmaker plus a former Democratic Party floor leader, said Tuesday there was clearly an “urgent need” to bring back inter-Korean cooperation, arguing that failure to behave now could further isolate North Korea and convey in regards to a come back to the brinkmanship of 36 months ago. Kim earlier this coming year said he would soon debut a “new strategic weapon” — component of a bid to pressure Trump, who faces an election in November, returning to the negotiating table.
“There a wide range of inter-Korean projects that could proceed without breaching the present UN sanctions regime,” Woo said.
The most recent dust-up — triggered by South Korean activists who sent anti-Pyongyang messages in balloons over the border — comes in front of the 20th anniversary of the first meeting between top leaders of the divided Koreas. The summit beginning on June13 and 2000, was the largest moment of then-President Kim Dae-jung’s reconciliation effort that generated stepped up trade and joint projects and helped create the South Korean leader the Nobel Peace Prize.
While that “Sunshine Policy” helped cool tensions, it had been also criticized for providing Pyongyang’s leaders with cash needed to produce its nuclear weapons program. Smaller measures that may allow just a trickle of foreign currency back into cash-starved North Korea also risk disappointing Kim Jong Moon’s and Un allies, who see their current strength in parliament his or her best possibility to secure lasting change.
North Korea’s relations with Moon haven’t been a similar since Trump walked from a summit with Kim in February 2019 in Hanoi. The North Korean leader was pushing a strategy backed by Seoul to quit his antiquated Yongbyon nuclear facility in return for sanctions relief — an offer that came nowhere near the Trump administration’s requirement for the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
“It is a sense of betrayal and disappointment,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former analyst for your US government devoted to North Korea. “Kim Jong Un feels South Korea has misled him into believing that Yongbyon facilities were gonna be enough for a cope with Trump in Hanoi.”
Following that, North Korea has effectively ignored Moon’s requests for talks, shunned his offers for aid and test-launched new ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload for all parts of South Korea, where about 28,500 US military personnel are stationed.
North Korea didn’t answer South Korea’s calls made around the military line Tuesday the very first time ever since the inter-Korean communication link was restored in 2018, defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing in Seoul. “Inter-Korean communication line is a simple method for communication and ought to be kept in step with inter-Korean agreements,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said inside a message to reporters.
A State Department spokesperson said the usa urges North Korea to return to cooperation and diplomacy. “The United States has always supported progress in inter-Korean relations, and we are disappointed in the DPRK’s recent actions,” the spokesperson said, making reference to North Korea by its formal name.
Making sure to avoid the wrath of Trump, though kim Jong Un may follow up his move to cut communications links with more missile tests. The American president has brushed off shorter-range tests and credited their own diplomacy for stopping Kim from further tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles effective at hitting the US mainland.
“Provocations like missile launches will follow, but nothing as serious as an ICBM test,” said Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank. Cho added that North Korea also didn’t wish to push Moon too much: “The South is knowledgeable that ending the inter-Korean relations will not be a thing that the North wants.”
Moon’s government said at the end of May said that it wanted in order to again ease travel restrictions and inter-Korean exchanges. The same attempt in 2018 led Trump to bluntly tell Seoul that this couldn’t a single thing regarding sanctions “without our approval.”
That would come with the enormous risk of cleaving Seoul from its alliance with Washington, said Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. policy analyst who specializes in Korean Peninsula issues, though members of the Moon administration have hinted that Seoul could act unilaterally to resuscitate inter-Korean cooperation.
“President Moon can promise the North Koreans the earth, but realistically, he remains constrained in the way of practical measures South Korea can take — if Seoul were to be conscious of and concerned about its relations with the US,” she said.
South Korean proposals blocked through the Trump administration included resuming operations with a joint factory park from the North Korean border city of Kaesong as well as a separate resort at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang. Both were opened within the spirit of the Sunshine Policy and then shut on account of political turmoil.
While South Korea surely could win a UN sanctions waiver that led to the ceremonial sending of trains across the border about 2 yrs ago, its humanitarian assistance has dried out under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. South Korea has sent more $3 billion of aid since 1995, but little of it has come under the Moon government, which sent just $12 million in 2018 and 2017, government data shows.
‘Bent Over Backwards’
Trade between the two nations has dropped to virtually zero from $2.7 billion in 2015, or about 10% of North Korea’s economy. The regime took a further hit this current year in the event it sealed off its borders in January at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which slammed the brakes on other trade with countries like China.
According to Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Nuclear and Asia Policy at the International Crisis Group, kim Jong Un believes he doesn’t have much of anything to lose by increasing pressure on Moon.
“North Korea is raising the ante, trying to further punish, scare, and force Seoul to work harder in order to meet Pyongyang’s demands,” Kim said. “Kim Jong Un feels he bent over backwards for Moon, but believes Seoul has not reciprocated, has betrayed North Korea and the Korean race, and has no influence over Washington to deliver on its promises.”