The South Korean presidential office has announced that President Moon Jae-in, currently on his trip to three Nordic countries, will deliver a keynote speech at the University of Oslo on Wednesday about a new peace vision for the Korean Peninsula. The day falls on the first anniversary of the historic summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The joint statement in Singapore included a broad agreement between the two countries on a new bilateral relationship, a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and a complete denuclearization. However, the statement was largely vague and lacked specific details. This enabled North Korea to use denuclearization as a bargaining chip, rather than regarding it as its obligation, leading the nuclear talks to a serious deadlock since the breakdown of the Hanoi summit on Feb. 28 this year.
As he presented his “Berlin Declaration” in July 2017 as a response to North Korea’s missile launches, President Moon is expected to set out a bold vision through his Oslo declaration this time to restore the stalled dialogue between the United States and North Korea. Ahead of the scheduled visit to Seoul by President Trump later this month, the South Korean government would also hope to produce concrete achievements, probably in the form of an inter-Korean summit or a dispatch of a special envoy. However, Pyongyang’s attitude seems to be anything but cooperative. Thus, President Moon may expect that his speech in Oslo would serve as an opportunity to successfully persuade North Korea.
Still, Moon’s Berlin declaration, which the administration has often cited as a success story, was literally a “declaration” at that time. Even after the remarks in Germany, the North Korean regime continued its provocations and escalated tensions to a peak, only to respond to the South’s offer the next year by joining the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang. What drove North Korea to change its attitude was a closely coordinated framework of the international community’s economic sanctions on the regime. This fact should not be overlooked when the Moon administration devises solutions in the future.
Now, time is not on the North Korean side. Nor is it on the U.S. side. Economic hardships and food shortages are increasingly choking the Kim regime, which has recently urged the United States to offer a new method of calculation. President Trump will be also pressured to resolve the current uncertainties ahead of the presidential election scheduled for November next year. Yet, it is doubtful whether a plan driven by improvements to the relationship between the two Koreas alone will be able to facilitate the dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
South Korea rather finds itself in a position to be forced to make a strategic choice amid Washington-Beijing intensifying competition to gain supremacy. North Korea’s nuclear issue is not on top of the U.S. agenda, and circumstances on the Korean Peninsula are being more affected by outside forces. If we continue to fix our eyes on the North and turn a blind eye to diplomacy with neighboring countries, we will become a loner. Moreover, the hegemonic rivalry requires a new order in the world and in Northeast Asia. Under these conditions, the two Koreas won’t be able to address any challenges by themselves.