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Is S. Korea ready to take the initiative?

Posted July. 03, 2017 07:26,   

Updated July. 03, 2017 07:30


The first summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump has wrapped up on last Friday with many results mainly focusing on diplomatic security. In the statement, the two leaders announced they will continue to expeditiously enable the conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control of the South Korean forces. Also, President Trump said that he supported South Korea’s leading role in fostering an environment for peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula and President Moon’s aspiration to restart inter-Korean dialogue. The joint statement text seems to indicate that president Trump significantly empowers president Moon and some observe that Korea can now play the leading role with regard to issues related to the Korean Peninsula.

The real problem is to implement the details of agreement. However, we should ask ourselves if we are ready to take the lead. The transfer of wartime operational control within President Moon's term was one of his campaign promises. Still, we have to deal with many issues to make that happen. In 2014, the South Korean and U.S. forces agreed that three main conditions must be met for Washington to hand over the operational control to Seoul and they are the key military capabilities of joint defense, South Korea’s independent countering of the North’s nuclear and missile threats and creating an environment on and around the Korean Peninsula for stable transfer. Former administrations of South Korea failed the wartime control transfer due to economic burdens on strengthening our defense power and concerns over weakening security capabilities. It is difficult to practically implement the wartime control unless we eliminate the corruption of defense businesses and conduct a strong defense reform, even if the U.S. is willing to transfer the wartime control.

Although the leaders have agreed to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, it does not mean that we can create an environment for dialogue promptly by excluding military options completely. According to the joint statement, denuclearization should be made under the right circumstances, which means that inter-Korean dialogue should follow a new approach, not in the way we did in the past. President Moon said, “North Korea’s nuclear freeze is the gate to the dialogue and its complete withdrawal will be the closure.” We all know that it will take a long time. North Korea's Rodong Sinmun harshly criticized Moon’s visit to the U.S. and said, “The Moon administration will suffer the same fate of the former Park Geun-hye regime that never had a chance to begin a talk with the North, if South Korea flatters the U.S. and is hostile to the Korean people, not to mention of improving inter-Korean relations.” President Moon’s efforts will come to nothing even if he tries hard to create a moment of talk. We need the reaction from North Korea that is still looking at the U.S. only.

The joint statement exceptionally mentioned that the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to enhance South Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral cooperation and this may threaten China. Trump’s urge to disallow Chinese steel dumping is to ask us to take its side when it comes to the U.S.-China trade disputes. President Moon requested China's withdrawal of economic retaliation against South Korea due to the deployment of THAAD, adding that it is not fair. South Korea cannot deny that we are now facing a difficult situation as we should implement agreements with the U.S. and persuade China at the same time.

President Moon will attend the South Korea-U.S.-Japan trilateral summit and bilateral summits with Japan and China in the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit on Friday and Saturday. President Moon should be realistic to consider our circumstances and national power in order to carry out summit diplomacy that was absent for the past six months and to protect the national interest.