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Finding a balance

July 02,2019
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South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, stands beside while North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, talks with U.S. President Donald Trump, right, on the southern side of Panmunjom, the inter-Korean truce village in the Demilitarized Zone, on Sunday. [YONHAP]
이미지뷰
Lee Ha-kyung
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the United States shook hands at the DMZ, the tragic border of our divided land. The historic moment towards denuclearization and peace reminded me of a scene 19 years ago. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met President Kim Dae-jung on June 15, 2000, he said that communists also had morals. But I don’t see the morals of the communists.

North Korean foreign ministry’s Gwon Jeong-geun, who is in charge of U.S. affairs, said in a statement on June 27 that North Korea-U.S. talks are not a matter that South Korean authorities should meddle in. He also said South Korea should take care of its own affairs. In an interview the day before, President Moon Jae-in said that he believed in Kim’s will for denuclearization, and that if all the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon were completely scrapped under verification, North Korea’s denuclearization would be at an irreversible stage. Security specialists in the United States criticized that notion as unrealistic. But the next day, a mere U.S. section chief made insulting remarks about the South Korean president.

North Korea’s forgetfulness is well known. It has forgotten the troubles before the North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Rough words from Kim Kye-kwan and Choi Sun-hee almost resulted in the cancellation of the summit, and at 3 a.m. on May 26, 2018, Kim signaled an SOS. President Moon had an unplanned summit at Tongilgak in the North Korean side of Panmunjom 12 hours later. It was right after he made a four-day, one-night visit to Washington to facilitate the North Korea-U.S. meeting and got poor treatment from Trump.

However, North Korea wanted to deal directly with the United States instead of going through Korea. Is it venting at the South after the second North Korea-U.S. meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam on February 27 to 28 failed? Or does it think South Korea is dispensable after Xi Jinping’s North Korea visit? It is a serious discourtesy to ignore the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea.

The Panmunjom meeting of the three leaders was spectacular, but we need to look at the confusing reality. The world is shaking. It started as China awoke from a deep sleep since the Opium War in 1840. Having maintained the international order for decades, the United States cannot ignore China openly displaying its power. A trade war between the two powers is expanding into a technology war, and the fourth industrial revolution will depend on AI and big data. But China is going full steam ahead. With or without Trump, a showdown with China would be unavoidable.

Trump is telling not just China but the world to make a choice. Since World War II, the engines of peace and prosperity for the world were the United Nations and GATT, the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The United States established and led the two organizations. Now, the U.S. President considers them useless. Korea feels this directly as an ally of the United States and a country highly dependent on trade.

The U.S. and Chinese economies are conjoined twins sharing organs. Separating them will bring mutual destruction. That’s why Trump took a step back and said that American companies’ parts supplies to Huawei would continue at the Group of 20 summit. In fact, the New York Times reported on June 25 that despite the commerce department’s export restrictions, Micron Technology and Intel started to send parts to Huawei. This is the limit of Trump’s offensive.

It is an age of global chaos. We need to have our own reasoning and survival strategy. Korea should not be submissive to the powers. What’s more important is the attitude toward North Korea. Korea needs to say what it wants to say. It was right for President Moon to tell North Korea to respond to the working level meetings with the United States. But it was a mistake to earn criticism by overestimating the offer of a Yongbyon nuclear facility shutdown.

Korea needs to seek an apology for the insulting statement by the foreign ministry section chief. Only then, will Pyongyang respect Seoul. North Korea has had 13 summits since March 2018, three times with South Korea, twice with the United States, five times with China and one each with Russia, Vietnam and Singapore. President Trump said yesterday that he could come this far because of the great partnership with President Moon and expressed appreciation for his continued trust. The North Korea-U.S. meeting was held in Freedom House on the South Korean side. Pyongyang should admit that without Seoul, no progress is possible.

The Moon Jae-in administration should break from past administrations’ habit of using inter-Korean relations for domestic politics. Then, it would not be so impatient. Internal integration is the priority. Then, Korea will be able to handle North Korea, the United States, China and Japan. We can also scold communists about their morals for ignoring us.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 1, Page 31