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Heads of state extend congratulations to Moon

Washington and Tokyo stressed need to tackle Pyongyang problem
May 11,2017
The White House extended its congratulations to newly elected President Moon Jae-in, who was expected to hold a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump as early as Wednesday, Moon’s first day in office.

“I think the president looks forward to meeting with him and talking about shared interests,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Moon to continue to strengthen the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea,” the White House said in a statement, “and to deepen the enduring friendship and partnership between our two countries.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin also extended their congratulations to Moon on Wednesday via their ambassadors in Seoul.

Xi conveyed that South Korea is China’s “important neighbor,” adding that he “continues to highly regard the Korea-China relationship.”

The two countries celebrate 25 years of bilateral ties this year, but relations have been strained as Beijing has engaged in economic retaliation against Korea over the deployment of a U.S.-led Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry added that Xi said he would like to work with Moon “to bolster cooperation and advance healthy and stable bilateral relations.”

Abe also sent a congratulatory message, saying he would like to meet with the new Korean president as soon as possible to “exchange honest opinions and cooperate to contribute to regional peace and prosperity.”

The Japanese prime minister emphasized in the message, sent through his Foreign Ministry, that he would like to advance Korea-Japan relations in various areas, adding Seoul is its closest neighbor and that the two countries “share strategic interests.”

He conveyed he would like to cooperate with Moon on the North Korea issue and other common challenges.

Moon has said during his presidential campaign that the December 2015 settlement to resolve the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery should be renegotiated so that the surviving victims are satisfied. The deal to resolve the “comfort women” issue consisted of the Japanese prime minister’s apology and a 1 billion yen ($8.98 million) fund for the victims, but has been criticized by some of the victims as well as civic activists who called upon Tokyo to take clear legal responsibility.

Moon, as the new president, immediately became commander-in-chief of the military and was briefed on national security matters and North Korea’s movements over the telephone by Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

With Moon’s election as the first liberal president in a decade, there is interest to see how he will approach foreign affairs and security policy, especially during a period of heightened provocations from North Korea. Moon is expected to pursue a policy of greater engagement with North Korea, and some are already calling his approach the start of a “Moonshine” era. Some analysts are concerned that a new form of the “Sunshine Policy,” or engagement with the North under presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, is inappropriate in the current atmosphere.

U.S. experts interviewed by the JoongAng Ilbo said Moon and Trump should meet as soon as possible to build a relationship of trust and emphasized that the U.S.-Korea alliance is indispensable.

In his statement to the nation Wednesday, Moon declared, “If necessary, I will travel to Washington right away.” He also said that if conditions are right, he will visit Pyongyang to resolve the security crisis.

“The new Republic of Korea government should move swiftly to build trust with Washington as a first step,” said Frank Jannuzi, president and CEO of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, who previously served as an East Asia analyst for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

He added the new president “will need quickly to reach out to Washington to coordinate policy toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)” and that “Washington and Seoul need to agree on how much pressure to bring to bear on the DPRK for its missile and nuclear tests, and more importantly, what goals to adopt if, and when, we have a resumption of dialogue with the DPRK.”

There has been speculation that Moon could arrange a bilateral meeting with Trump soon, possibly before the Group of 20, or G-20, summit in Hamburg, Germany, to be held over July 7 and 8.

Moon has been critical of the rushed delivery of the Thaad system to Korea and has said the deployment issue should be decided by the next administration, but on his first day in office he said his government will engage in negotiations with Washington and Beijing in order to resolve the conflict.

Bruce Bennett, defense expert and senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, pointed out the dilemma that Moon faces, because if the new president rejects Thaad, it will “lead to difficulty with the United States” but if he supports it, this would lead to difficulty with China.

“If he decides to support it, he then needs to explain the Chinese duplicity on Thaad: China has a missile defense system very similar to Thaad already deployed (HQ-19), so why is it OK for China to have such a system and not for Korea?” said Bennett, referring to China’s HQ-19 antiballistic missile system, or “Red Flag.” “And why has China been deploying over-the-horizon radars around Korea, but one Thaad radar in Korea is a problem?”

“Although President Moon would clearly not want to be seen as doing America’s bidding,” said Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia program at Stimson Center who worked for the U.S. State Department for 27 years, “demonstrating that he can manage the alliance well and maintain close and trusting relations with Washington will be crucial to his success.”

Asian affairs expert Larry Niksch, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), warned that the new president should not offer North Korea unilateral measures “to reopen sunshine policies,” including resuming the Kaesong Industrial Complex, Mt. Kumgang tourism or food aid. Moon should instead, according to Niksch, “develop several important concessions that North Korea should meet in return for reopening some of the sunshine policies, such as permanent family reunions or settlement on the west sea boundary.”

He said if the new president restarts sunshine policies toward Pyongyang “without getting North Korean reciprocal concessions,” this would draw backlash from the Trump administration.

“Such steps would have the effect of undermining policies aimed at denuclearization of North Korea … and no doubt would draw strong public criticism from President Trump,” Niksch added. “There would emerge in the United States a questioning of the alliance, whether the United States should continue it, or at least whether the United States should withdraw most, or all, of its military forces from South Korea.”

“My greatest concern is that progressives who have been out of power for almost a decade may try to implement policies, particularly regarding North Korea, more appropriate to an earlier era than to the reality that we face today,” said Evans Revere, former Asia expert with the U.S. State Department and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies. “It’s possible that a progressive administration in Seoul may look at a range of issues, including North Korea, China, Japan, trade, U.S. Forces Korea, and Thaad, differently than the Trump administration does.”

He said there is “potential for misunderstanding” and said it would be better if the alliance “were not tested in this fashion.”

Romberg advised the new president to avoid “surprises” but “also consulting closely and working out differences to the maximum extent possible rather than assuming that ‘informing’ the U.S. about any anticipated moves is enough.”

Bennett recommended on policy toward Pyongyang, “A progressive Korean government and the Trump Administration could approach North Korea in a ‘good cop/bad cop’ manner. This would require significant coordination between the Korean and U.S. governments, but in practice may be the most effective way of bringing about some change in North Korea.”

BY SARAH KIM, KIM HYUN-KI [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]