The newly-elected South Korean president has proposed a radical shift in the country’s North Korea policy.
Whereas the conservatives under the leadership of ousted former President Park Geun-hye attempted to cut all ties with North Korea, incoming liberal President Moon Jae-in has indicated that he is open to talks with the North Korean regime.
“I will quickly move to solve the crisis in national security. I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean Peninsula — if needed, I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo,” Moon said Wednesday, according to multiple reports. “If the conditions shape up, I will go to Pyongyang.”
Moon has indicated that he supports a North Korea policy involving negotiations and economic cooperation coupled with pressure through certain security measures, a strategic policy approach similar to that proposed by the Trump administration. “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim Jong Un], I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it,” President Donald Trump said last week, adding that a meeting could only take place under “the right circumstances.”
Moon has stressed that he and Trump are on the “same page,” CNN reports. Although Moon previously wrote that South Korea should learn to “say no to the Americans,” he has also indicated that he intends to strengthen the bilateral alliance with the U.S.
The Trump administration’s policy is one of “maximum pressure and engagement,” which aims to force North Korea to the table by crippling it economically and surrounding it with strategic military assets. It is unclear at this time how Moon’s North Korea policies will align with those of the Trump administration.
Moon’s previous comments have some observers convinced that he will bring back the “Sunshine Policy” that was in place the last time the liberals had power. The policy called for closer bilateral ties between Seoul and Pyongyang and encouraged cross-border cooperation. Between 1998 and 2008, two South Korean presidents visited the North Korean capital. Despite improved relations, the policy failed to derail North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, as the North conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
When the conservatives took control, the “Sunshine Policy” was abandoned for more hard-line policy options.
Moon was an adviser to the liberal administrations that embraced the policy of engagement and cooperation with North Korea. At the time, the U.S. declared that the South had “lost its nerve” and was clearing the way for North Korea to emerge as a nuclear weapons state.
Suh Hoon, a veteran of inter-Korean talks nominated by Moon to lead the National Intelligence Service, told reporters Wednesday that it is too early to talk seriously about a possible summit between the new South Korean president and his North Korean counterpart, Reuters reported.
Another issue Moon will be forced to address is the dispute with China over America’s deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile shield in South Korea.
“I will do everything I can for peace on the Korean Peninsula … I will negotiate seriously with the US and China to resolve the THAAD issue,” Moon said. While the new president has questioned the deployment of THAAD, it is unlikely that the deployment process could be reversed, as the system is already operational and has initial intercept capabilities.
While the North Korea issue likely weighs heavily on South Korea’s new president, Moon will also need to deal with domestic issues, such as youth unemployment and economic development concerns.
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