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Strengthen the alliance (KOR)

June 29,2019
President Moon Jae-in has returned home after wrapping up his attendance of the Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Osaka, Japan. The meetings he had on the sidelines of the G-20 summit were considered an opportunity for the liberal government to prove its diplomatic capability through direct dialogue with big powers to address the North Korean nuclear threat. Yet the results of his summits fall way short of our expectations. Above all, Moon could not have a bilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe even though he was the host of the whole event. It is unprecedented that a South Korean president did not have a face-to-face meeting with a Japanese prime minister on such an occasion. The absence of a bilateral summit explicitly shows the ongoing diplomatic stalemate between Seoul and Tokyo.

In the meantime, Abe had as many as 20 summits with foreign heads of state and leaders of international organizations. But a tripartite summit among South Korea, the United States and Japan — which was held at every G-20 Summit — was not held this time. Instead, a summit among the United States, Japan and India replaced it.

Even Chinese President Xi Jinping pressured Moon to ease sanctions on North Korea by delivering North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s hopes for a “better external environment.” Xi went so far as to threaten Moon to not participate in the U.S.-led boycott on China’s IT giant Huawei and also urged him to withdraw the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile shield.

Yet the Chinese leader kept mum on Moon’s invitation for him to visit Seoul. But Xi gladly accepted Abe’s proposal to come to Japan during the cherry blossom season next spring, saying, “That’s a good idea!”

To make matters worse, North Korea attacked the Moon Jae-in administration for “impertinently playing the role of a mediator” in the denuclearization talks. That sharply contrasts with the Blue House’s explanation that Kim Jong-un expressed to Xi a willingness for cooperation and reconciliation on the denuclearization issue during his recent trip to Pyongyang. North Korea is still bent on taming South Korea to receive more concessions from it rather than appreciating its peace gestures. All the developments suggest South Korea’s deepening isolation from the rest of the world.

In that sense, Trump’s visit to South Korea on Saturday and Sunday offers a watershed moment in helping break the deadlock. Moon must do his best to shore up our weakened alliance with Uncle Sam and draw up strategies toward North Korea in sync with the United States. He recently said that if North Korea completely dismantles the Yongbyon nuclear facilities, denuclearization will be irreversible. After those remarks sparked questions from the United States, his aides had to hurriedly back-pedal.

On the denuclearization issue, Seoul and Washington must speak with the same voice. Only then can South Korea bring North Korea to the negotiating table. The Moon administration must not forget that the more it is pushed by North Korea, the faster it will be ignored by the international community.

JoongAng Sunday, June 29-30, Page 30