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South Korea must take realistic view toward North Korea

Posted September. 21, 2017 08:33,   

Updated September. 21, 2017 08:46


U.S. President Donald Trump’s first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday has shocked diplomatic circles around the world. Trump called for the international community’s cooperation to pressure North Korea while supporting his America First policy, by saying, “It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim Jong Un regime until it ceases its hostile behavior. We can no longer be taken advantage of. I will defend America's interests.” Trump’s combative rhetoric when he pledged to “totally destroy North Korea” seemed like his last warning to North Korea for its series of nuclear provocations and threatening to the U.S. and its allies. Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, who had taken a gentle, multi-pronged policy toward the North, Trump adopted principled realism that aims to pursue America’s interests without being bounded by multilateralism.

To the most prestigious and multilateral diplomatic setting in the world, Trump took the podium with a prepared transcript, meaning that he did not make a random, impromptu story. Though he threatened North Korea that the U.S. would consider destroying the isolated country, he probably did not mean to say he would give up diplomatic solutions based on pressure and sanction. As Defense Secretary James Mattis, who once hinted a military option not putting Seoul in danger, said at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the U.S. wants to “resolve North Korean issues through diplomatic measures,” military options will be a last resort.

Trump says North Korea is the biggest threat. However, his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, highlights a peaceful reconciliation. Two leaders seem to have different perspectives on how to deal with the North. In meetings with British Prime Minister Theresa May and Senegalese President Macky Sall, Moon asked for a peaceful approach to the North. After receiving this year's Global Citizen Awards by the Atlantic Council, Moon emphasized peace in the Korean Peninsula in his remarks. Moon’s perspective on peaceful resolution is in line with what Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is attending the U.N. General Assembly on behalf of Chinese President Xi Jinping, has suggested.

The U.N. General Assembly with roughly 120 global leaders is a perfect occasion to let them witness how we approach to North Korea. After meeting global leaders, President Moon may have felt the harshness and solemnness of international order by which powerful nations have more authority. Moon needs to think about how he will engage with allies if he sticks to his “talk and negotiate” strategy, while Trump never stops his combative remarks about a war with the North. The U.S. continues to suggest military options because they give a big momentum to make its sanction on the North much more effective.

President Moon is set to make his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. He should make a gesture of empathy over threats to the U.S. and speak about a stronger alliance between South Korea and the U.S. During a presidential summit with Trump and a luncheon meeting with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Moon should make more efforts to avoid any cacophony toward a policy on North Korea and reaffirm his country’s close relations with its allies. South Korea must solidify its cooperation with allies based on trust from the U.S. and Japan and take an unemotional, realistic approach to deal with the current crisis.