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New York ‘nothingburger’

Sept 25,2019
The summit in New York on Tuesday between President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump was a “nothingburger,” to use a term of our times. Both leaders shunned talks over such sensitive issues as defense cost-sharing or the scrapping of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan, not to mention denuclearization of North Korea. A Q&A session ended up as Trump’s one-man show again. He patted himself on the back by underscoring eased tensions with North Korea and “good relations” with its leader Kim Jong-un. As a result, Moon had no chance to answer questions from reporters. Despite the fact that it was their ninth meeting so far, no trust could be found between them.

The Korea-U.S. alliance is at a crossroads. After Washington demanded $5 billion — nearly five times the current amount — from South Korea as part of defense cost-sharing, Seoul is deeply embarrassed. Under the Trump administration, the alliance has turned into a troubled marriage. If Gsomia is ended in November, a fatal loophole emerges in the decades-old Korea-U.S. joint defense system. And both leaders failed to produce any tangible results to restore the alliance.

Even more serious schisms appeared on the North Korea denuclearization front. Trump dismissed the Libyan model of denuclearization — dismantling nuclear facilities before easing sanctions — after firing his hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton two weeks ago. Trump seems to be on his way to accepting North Korea as a de facto nuclear power. There are very few who believe Pyongyang would give up nuclear weapons even if denuclearization talks resume.

How have we reached this point? The Blue House had no plan to hold a summit with Trump in the beginning. The main plan was for Moon’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly. But the Blue House had to change course after news broke about a possible resumption of denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. A sudden push for a summit led to a critical lack of substance.
The same can apply to an answer provided by National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon at the National Assembly. He raised the possibility of Kim Jong-un attending a Korea-Asean special summit in Busan in November. Some progress in denuclearizing North Korea is a prerequisite for Kim’s participation. His trip to Busan sounds very unrealistic. The government must demonstrate prudence — and common sense — in security issues.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 25, Page 30