President Moon holds key to success in North, South Korea

  • Arthur I. Cyr

    Arthur I. Cyr

 
By Arthur I. Cyr
Guest columnist
Posted4/23/2019 1:00 AM

The April 11 summit in Washington between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and President Donald Trump of the United States deserves much greater attention than has been received. South Korea has great and growing international influence and plays a pivotal role on the Korea Peninsula.

Instead, the mass media has focused considerable emphasis on related Trump statements. In advance of the session with Moon, he said progress toward agreement with North Korea is still possible. He said something similar after the summit.

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A summit meeting in February in Hanoi Vietnam between Kim Jong Un of North Korea and Trump ended abruptly with disappointment. The first meeting between Trump and Kim took place in Singapore in June 2018. An important goal of the South Korea president in visiting Washington was to ensure that conversations between the communist North and the U.S. continue. Trump's statements are encouraging in this regard. This result doubtless reflects in part skillful groundwork behind the scenes by South Korea's diplomats and other government officials, working with their American counterparts.

President Moon faces challenges but with considerable strengths. He took office on May 10, 2017, following a special election and in a time of uncertainty on both sides of the 38th Parallel, the border that divides Korea into north and south. South Korea had just experienced the ordeal of impeachment and removal from office of a sitting president, Park Geun-hye.

She is now in prison in Seoul after conviction on corruption charges, serving a 25-year sentence. The former president is the daughter of General Park Chung-hee, who emerged from a military coup in the early 1960s to lead South Korea as dictator until his assassination in 1979.

Moon brings diverse, impressive and useful experience to the top post. His father was a refugee from North Korea. During Moon's youth, he was arrested and spent some time in prison because of activism against the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee. Reflecting that experience, he decided to pursue a career as a human rights lawyer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

He also served in the Republic of Korea army special forces, and saw action in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) along the 38th Parallel. Later, he was chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun. In the 2012 presidential election, he finished a close second to Park Geun-hye.

On May 14 2017, North Korea greeted the inauguration of President Moon in South Korea with a launch test of yet another long-range missile. The new Hwasong-12 missile reached a greater height than six others tested that year. The missile reportedly could reach as far as Guam, where the U.S. maintains military facilities. Yet North Korea remains in desperate economic condition. At the same time, Choe Son-hui, head of the North Korea foreign ministry's North America bureau, stated publicly and prominently that her government was interested in serious dialogue with the U.S.

South Korea's president has devoted sustained attention to exploration of fresh communication with the North. His flexible stance contrasts with his two predecessors, Presidents Park and, earlier, Lee Myung-bak.

Washington as well as Beijing, Tokyo and others should encourage this. Seoul has the high ground regarding Pyongyang not only in moral terms, but also in the hard realities of economic and military strength. In practical terms, this is now happening. The North Korea regime in Pyongyang now deals with both Washington and Seoul.

In diplomacy, historically and currently, the greatest progress results from sustained effort.

Arthur I. Cyr, acyr@carthage.edu, of Northbrook, is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of "After the Cold War."

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