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Kim Jong-un’s year?

Dec 19,2018
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South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wave to Pyongyang residents welcoming Moon to North Korea for his third summit with Kim on Sept. 18. [JOINT PRESS CORPS]
이미지뷰
Nam Jeong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“2019 is shaping up to be the Year of North Korea,” wrote the Hill, a U.S. political newspaper. Unless North Korea conducts additional nuclear and missiles tests, Kim will soon have meetings with not only South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but also U.S. President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More inter-Korean and U.S.-North summits are just a matter of time. Xi said last month that he would visit North Korea next year, and Kim is expected to visit Russia soon.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly said he wants to meet with Kim to discuss the issue of Japanese abductees in North Korea.

If all goes well, Kim will meet the leaders of the four powers. What will happen if the young leader of the hermit kingdom meets with the big shots? He will surely be in the international media spotlight.

Meanwhile, Moon’s prospects for next year are grim. He set three goals for this year: a formal declaration proclaiming the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, an easing of sanctions on North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s visit to Seoul. They should be the basis for further moves, but nothing has materialized.

An end-of-war declaration faltered because North Korea and the United States showed little interest in it. They seem to think that as the fighting ended nearly seven decades ago, declaring an end now will not change much.

As things aren’t going well, the Moon administration turned to easing sanctions. It came up with the rhetoric that incentives should be offered to encourage denuclearization. Moon made the argument to European leaders during his October tour, but he was flatly rejected. While it is not well known in Korea, he had a similar experience in New Zealand, where he stopped by after the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

However, Moon thought that wide support for his Korean Peninsula peace process was earned after the European tour. That’s self-praise. He should have confessed that Europe did not want to ease sanctions. Kim’s visit to Seoul within the year is not likely to happen. A notable accomplishment for Moon would be holding a groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 26 for his administration’s projects to reconnect inter-Korean railways and help North Korea’s railway and roads construction.

What went wrong? I think President Moon’s perception of diplomacy is problematic. In his book “People Come First,” he summed up the essence of the diplomacy he pursues.

It is diplomacy with dignity. Whenever given a chance, he advocates that direction. At the Liberation Day ceremony in August, he said it is very important to have a sense of ownership over the Korean Peninsula issue. At a dinner with the head of South Korea’s overseas diplomatic missions on Dec. 10, he quoted independence activist Kim Kyu-sik, who said “It is best to dance to our tunes.” Essentially, he is saying that inter-Korean relations are a Korean matter that Koreans must handle.

But schemes and tricks prevail in the international stage.

A dignified and independent stance will not work. Kissinger famously said that diplomacy that cannot forcibly move another country is irrelevant.

The government needs to pursue strategies that fit our capacity. Using unrealistic rhetoric and independent diplomacy to pursue noble causes may make South Korea isolated in the international stage.

Kim Jong-un became an international star without dismantling a single nuclear weapon. Moon should be wary of rushing improvement in inter-Korean ties to boost his approval rating. He should not commit the folly of drinking seawater to quench his thirst.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 18, Page 30