SEATTLE — Following the recent impeachment of now ex-President Park Geun-Hye, South Korea has seen huge political shifts in its long-standing norm. The snap election saw the appointment of liberal Moonjoo party member Moon Jae-in, breaking the conservative Saenuri Party’s decade-long hold on the presidency. North and South Korean relations will likely see new strategies for peace with President Moon’s appointment.
Foreign governments and political pundits alike have waited to see how North and South Korean relations would be affected by the new government in Seoul’s Blue House. Opting for the carrots option over sticks, President Moon borrows from his background as a human right’s lawyer as he seeks to restart conciliatory talks with the North. The Moonjoo party hopes that dialogue and better relations with the North just might quell Pyongyang’s evolving nuclear arms tests and improve its unspeakable human right’s track record.
Notably, President Moon played a large part in orchestrating the sunshine policy between 1998-2008, which was the policy of diplomacy between the North and South. Although this policy did not see the eradication of North Korea’s nuclear program, the political climate between the North and South was considerably calmer. During the ten-year period, the height of nuclear tests was in 2009 with eight tests compared to 2016’s twenty-four tests.
In June, President Moon invited a North Korean delegation to partake in an international taekwondo competition in South Korea. Moreover, President Moon surmised in his opening remarks that South and North Korean Olympic teams should walk together in the opening ceremony of 2018’s winter Olympics, which is to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea. This is the first tangible action of the resurgence of the sunshine policy.
Key players such as the U.S., China and Japan, all with vested interests, have been keeping a close eye on the developments in North and South Korean relations. The combination of recent sanctions on several Chinese banks by the Treasury Department and $1 billion arms deal with Taiwan approved by the State Department are in part a response to increasing frustration that China has done little to quell their volatile neighbor.
Power dynamics are at work, as these new developments against China come at the same time as President Moon’s first visit to U.S. Previously, President Trump commented that he would like to see the current trade deal, struck in 2012, with South Korea redrawn. Given President Moon’s propensity for a softer approach and opening more lines of communication with the North, President Trump illustrates that the South will have to consider what the U.S. wants as well.
After the fiery debacle between President Trump and Kim Jung-Un in August, further cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. will be needed to achieve stability especially considering the planned military exercises that are to take place in late August.
Despite their differences, both nations have the same end goal in mind: to denuclearize North Korea and stabilize the unpredictability of their current President, Kim Jung-Un. Regardless of their divergent perspectives, both leaders will have to take heed of each other, as only a coalition approach towards the North will diffuse the current tensions.
President Trump commented that diplomatic channels might reopen if North Korea releases three Americans detained in Pyongyang or stops its nuclear tests. With harsh sanctions, already in place and more in the works if China yields to U.S. influence, the North has reason to take the Seoul-Washington alliance more seriously.
– Sydney Nam