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The ‘all-in’ debacle (KOR)

Nov 06,2019
With the first half of his term in office ending on Saturday, President Moon Jae-in showed his worst performance in the realms of diplomacy and security. Despite historic summits with North Korea’s leader, Moon’s diplomacy has gone nowhere, as seen in frequent missile provocations from the regime in Pyongyang. Officials in Donald Trump’s administration are still saying the Moon administration behaves like a surrogate for North Korea. Joint South Korea-U.S. military drills — a symbol of the decades-old alliance — suddenly came to a halt and Washington now maintains strategic ambiguity about what its extended deterrence means. And yet, the Trump administration is pressing Seoul to pay $5 billion — five times more than the current amount — to share its defense costs. The alliance shows schisms.

Seoul-Tokyo relations also are arguably at their worst state ever after our Supreme Court’s rulings last year ordering compensation for forced wartime labor victims. Despite growing calls for improvement in the strained ties, the conflict does not show any sign of improvement. South Korea’s relations with China and Russia are not good either. Conflict triggered by the deployment of the U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in South Korea is not ebbing due to Beijing’s persistent hostilities toward Seoul. As if to test the firmness of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, Russia’s military aircraft constantly fly into the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (Kadiz). If this is not a diplomatic disaster, what would be?

Such a tragic reality traces back to the Moon administration’s ill-conceived “all-in” policy toward North Korea. South Korea has become an unreliable partner of the United States due to its vague role as an intermediary between Washington and Pyongyang. Seoul-Tokyo relations also deteriorated due to the government’s obsession with North Korea. If the government had swiftly reacted to the Supreme Court’s rulings, Seoul-Tokyo ties would not be deadlocked like this.

But the Moon administration was engrossed with helping North Korea and missed the golden time to fix fences with Japan.

The government must end its signature all-in policy toward North Korea. It must dispel the illusion that it would strike a peace treaty with North Korea and help Pyongyang normalize its relations with Washington before its term ends. Only then can the government end its humiliating North Korea policy. It must deal with Pyongyang in a calm and rational way if it really wants to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 6, Page 30