Table Speech

Intensifying Situation in North Korea and the Moon Jae-in Regime

March 14, 2018

Mr. Masatoshi Muto
Diplomatic Commentator

 How can we speculate on the upcoming inter-Korean Summit and the U.S.-North Korea Summit meetings? If I make a conclusion, I am skeptical that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear missiles. While diplomatic pressure on North Korea has brought some changes in North Korean policy and succeeded in bringing the country to the negotiating table, thorough and cautious deliberation is required on each specific issue. If South Korean President Moon Jae-in or U.S. President Donald Trump tries to exploit the upcoming historic meetings for their own political gain, it will lead to a hasty one-sided conclusion. I expect the new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to exercise his diplomatic skills and hammer out the details based on an uncompromising strategy prior to the summit.

 Just recently, South Korea sent an envoy to North Korea and reached an agreement about holding an inter-Korean summit meeting. The smile of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was impressive, showing he succeeded in getting a satisfactory agreement. There were seven main points of agreement as follows: 1) the inter-Korean summit will be held by the end of April at Panmunjom in South Korea; 2) North Korea will clearly state its intention for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula; 3) to provide security guarantees to North Korea and make possession of nuclear weapons unjustifiable; 4) to engage in openhearted dialogue with the U.S. on issues including denuclearization and normalization of diplomatic relations; 5) North Korea will suspend all nuclear tests and missile launches while engaged in dialogue; 6) North Korea will promise not to use nuclear or conventional weapons against South Korea; and 7) North Korea understands the need for the annual U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise to resume in April.

 It is obvious that North Korea took the lead in reaching the above-mentioned 7 agreements. The negotiation took only one hour and the video footage shows Mr. Kim dominating the conversation while delegates from South Korean just taking notes. The content of agreements implies that the U.S. must also denuclearize as no nuclear capable strategic bombers, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers nor submarines will be allowed in the Korean peninsula. The agreements also imply that the U.S. troops must eventually withdraw from South Korea, leading to the dissolution of the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea. No wonder Mr. Kim was all smiles. I must emphasize that it is not enough to suspend nuclear tests and North Korea must declare that it will fully abandon its nuclear missiles.

 I think there are three factors that made North Korea come forward with the dialogue. Firstly, North Korea felt pressurized by the imminent threat that the U.S. could attack anytime. North Korea succeeded in test launching the intercontinental ballistic missile last November that could strike anywhere on the U.S. mainland whereas the U.S. flew strategic bombers over the Korean Peninsula. The risks of war had become higher than ever before. The second factor was Kim Jong-un was adversely affected by shortage of hidden funds inherited from his father the late Kim Jong-il. In addition to expenditures on nuclear missile tests, Mr. Kim has spent lavishly to fund constructions of high-rise apartments and a ski resort. The regime no longer has enough money to govern the country and gain loyalty of the military and political leaders by providing rewards and inducements. And the third factor was the country has been on the verge of economic breakdown caused by tough sanctions imposed by the international community. While the country is allowed to import 4 million barrels of crude oil annually, almost all the refined products have been suspended. Exports from North Korea has virtually stopped. The country had no choice but to engage in discussions.

 When we look at the Moon Jae-in regime, it is striking that almost half of the key political positions are occupied by pro-North politicians, including Mr. Suh Hoon, incumbent director of the National Intelligence Service, who undertook negotiations as the President’s special envoy earlier this year and who had also played an instrumental role in preparing for the landmark inter-Korean summits held in 2000 and 2007. While it is welcoming that inter-Korean dialogue will resume, there should be no loopholes for North Korea to get around international sanctions. I negotiated with North Korea in the early 1990s for diplomatic normalization and learnt firsthand how tough it is to grasp the intention often obscured by North Korea’s whimsical attitude and behavior. I must emphasize that abandonment of nuclear missiles by North Korea is the absolute requirement for Japan and denuclearization must be verifiable.

 Before I close my speech, let me say a few words on the relations between Japan and South Korea. I believe Koreans love Japan, proved by a 40-percent-increase in the number of tourists visiting Japan last year. Unfortunately, when it comes to political and historical issues, they fail to take an objective approach. The Moon Jae-in administration opts for a two-track strategy, separating the historical issues from the economic and security issues. I must say our bilateral relations could face some difficulties due to the Moon administration’s hardened stance on historical issues. But I believe our relationships have been improving in the mid- to long-term basis. We should calmly make steady steps forward.