During his phone conversation with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in expressed his hope to closely communicate with Biden for the future-oriented development of South Korea-U.S. alliance and denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. It was the first conversation took place between the two since Biden claimed victory in the U.S. presidential election.
President Moon wrote on his Twitter after the phone call that the two reaffirmed a commitment to a robust South Korea-U.S. alliance and a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula. However, President-elect Biden put an emphasis on strengthening the mutual alliance while President Moon stressed the importance of achieving denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Biden used the term “Indo-Pacific” instead of “Asia-Pacific” when describing South Korea as a linchpin in the region. If this reflects Washington’s intention to deal with the pending issues on the Korean Peninsula under its national strategy to counter China, the Moon administration will inevitably have to revise its strategy.
The ruling party has stressed the need to improve inter-Korea relations first before achieving denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Unification Minister Lee In-young said he will use the period until the new U.S. administration establishes policies as the “time for two Koreas” and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha emphasized the need for U.S.-North Korea summit. They seem not to aware that the world has changed. With that reluctance to give up on the top-down approach employed by President Trump, they will eventually be in disagreement with the new U.S. administration that puts an emphasis on the bottom-up approach.
The fact the Biden spoke with the leaders of Asian countries, including South Korea, Australia, and Japan a day after he had talked with the leaders of major European countries, saying “America is back” shows his will to become a global leader based on alliance diplomacy. It is a good sign Biden hinted that things will be different from the Trump era, where money is put before alliance, by visiting Korean War veterans’ memorial in Pennsylvania before talking to President Moon over the phone. Appearing at the Korean War memorial on U.S. Memorial Day is a sign of special affection for the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
In order to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula by capitalizing on Biden’s emphasis on South Korea-U.S. alliance, South Korea should first revise its current approach to denuclearization, such as an attempt to bring an end to the Korean War and build a close relationship with new U.S. diplomatic and security officials. The first step to denuclearization should be getting rid of the obsession to deliver results before President Moon’s term ends and working hand in hand with the new U.S. administration.