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Prof Kim Young Soo evaluates Moon's North Korea policy

Yeom Seung Cheol  |  2017-08-25 16:25
North Koreas trade volume increased last year despite the intensification of international sanctions. It has become clear that participation by the Chinese government will play a central role in ongoing efforts to reign in North Koreas destabilizing behavior. For further insights into this dynamic, we spoke to Sogang University Professor Kim Young Soo (pictured left).

Unification Media Group (UMG): South Koreas President Moon announced 100 tasks that he will seek to address during his five-year term. These include a pledge to denuclearize North Korea and establish peace on the peninsula, promises that were repeated during his election campaign and during his Berlin speech. What has been your evaluation of his progress?  

Kim Young Soo (Kim): The Moon Jae-In administration has set out its goals, but now the issue comes down to the implementation of the plans. Government spending on diplomacy and security is comparatively smaller than for the economic sector, but still has some weight. The problem is whether they can execute the plans as theyve been drawn up. Trial and error will steer the ship. Instead of criticizing the plans, lets look at how they may get implemented. Weve been through many different governments, and its unlikely that Moons policies will veer far away from the charted course. Right now, the government is assessing the information from past processes of trial and error. 

The list of 100 tasks has all sorts of pledges in it, but many of these will probably not eventuate. In the end, the most important indicators of the leaderships strength will be: 
How effectively does Moon lead?
How much support do the people give him?
How much cooperation can he secure from neighboring countries?
These are the factors that we carefully need to assess. 

UMG: Moon has announced that he wants to use negotiations to denuclearize the North by 2020. How realistic is this goal? 

Kim: Since the presidency of Kim Dae Jung, our government has talked about halting the Norths nuclear program but Pyongyang has always rejected these attempts. The first thing we need to look for is whether or not the Norths nuclear weapons will be considered negotiable or not. When it comes to a negotiation, its necessary to understand your counterparts position. Negotiation is a process of give and take. If negotiations are not conducted in this way, its unlikely that nuclear weapons can be addressed through talks. 

UMG: The early launch of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation - which has been stuck in political mire - was also mentioned. Do you think that President Moon will take on the same stance towards the Foundation that previous liberal governments have? 

Kim: I think the fact that the launch was mentioned as a goal in and of itself is a sign of just how hard its going to be to get the Foundation up and running. The composition of the council is supposed to be divided between the ruling party and the minority party. Now that the South Korean government is pushing for momentum behind North-South dialogue, its hard to simultaneously pursue the human rights issue. Its like using fire and water at the same time. What is the possibility of setting up dialogue if the South does something that the North clearly detests? I dont think human rights are at the forefront of this administrations agenda. 

UMG: The Moon Presidency is pursuing a two-track policy using pressure to try to restart negotiations - but might this be a counterproductive strategy? 

Kim: Theres no need to have one exclusive track. The hard part will be deciding on the right course based on the circumstances. But for North Korea, the multi-track approach is not favorable. North Korea is severely isolated and minimally dependent on the outside world, so the more contacts with the outside world it has, the harder it becomes for the regime to maintain control. So the Pyongyang leadership might actually prefer when the South maintains a strong policy against it. There is actual meaning to the ideas of change through contact, and one step at a time. We should focus on these ideas. We have to show the outside world why the two track solution is preferable, even if there is criticism. If the South was able to establish military dialogue with the North, as requested, that would have been a real accomplishment to support the two track approach. From the governments perspective, its a shame it didnt work out. 

UMG: North Korea hasnt made a direct response to the Souths offer to conduct military dialogue. Why do you think the Kim regime is rejecting Moon Jae Ins offer to connect? 

Kim: First of all, the Norths goals are quite different from the Souths. North Korea wants to retain their nukes and the South wants it to disarm. Kim Jong Un seized the opportunity of the G20 summit in Berlin to advise his diplomats to find a way to establish a peace treaty. Since the 1970s, North Korea has been looking for a way to open bilateral dialogue with the US. Kim Jong Un is still feeling out the Moon administration and as of yet, there has not been any North Korean state media articles specifically criticizing Moon himself. 

In the midst of this, Kim Jong Un has received the new title of Party Chairman. This is a significant change. Kim Jong Un has absolute power over the decision making process, and no one else has the authority to initiate alternative decisions. Now that nuclear weapons have been publicly announced, it would be counter-revolutionary and anti-party to suggest denuclearization. Looking at the internal power dynamic, it is easy to see how complicated the issue is for the North.  


UMG: Although there is no response yet from the North, I imagine that diverse forms of exchange and dialogue will resume. Where should the Moon government focus its efforts?

Kim: Humanitarian aid comes to mind as one possibility to bring the two sides closer together. Resolving the suspended engagement projects - namely the Kaesong Industrial Park and the Kumgang Mountain tourism area - might be an important place to start. 

Moon Jae In approached North Korean International Olympic Committee Representative Ung Chang with ideas for cooperation, but Ung thought they were naive. I think that Kaesong and Kumgang are not the primary issues. North Korea is the root of the problem. In the past, it was ambiguous whether the projects were important or not, but now it is clear. 

The most fundamental point is to avoid mutual slander and hostile policies. That is why Moon Jae-In recommended starting with easier things first during his Berlin speech. Everything becomes politicized. I dont think that Kaesong and Kumgang will be the first knots to be untied. 

UMG: As international sanctions against the North continue to get stronger, we have yet to see indications that they will have their intended effects. Some raise the argument that it will not be feasible to achieve the desired result without more buy-in from China. And some people are skeptical about the efficacy of sanctions in general. Whats your position? 

Sanctions are effective against countries that are dependent on the international community, but not effective in the short term for places where loyalty to the leadership is high. North Korea is very adaptable. At this point, only about 4 in every 100 sanctions measures have had their intended effect. The regime is working hard to avoid the negative fallout of all of these measures. They can change the names of people and companies, split and rebrand companies, and conduct trade illicitly.  

Finally, secondary sanctions have been brought up. Now that the US has designated Chinas Bank of Dandong as an institution of primary money laundering concern, the situation has become more severe. The price of gasoline has risen and then fallen. So there has been some sort of effect. Specifically targeting Kim Jong Un and his inner circle is another way to hurt the regime. Its humiliating for them, and thats the biggest effect.   

UMG: Seeing as previous strategies have failed to elicit major changes in the North, what do you think the Moon administration should focus on to achieve success? 

Moon Jae In has focused on dialogue, but I think if he changes that phrase to improving relations it will really hit home more. It will feel more calming. Another unfortunate element of the strategy is that, until now, contacts between the North and South have been very unilateral. The central government takes the central stage in dialogue. Just as it is important to have the minor vessels supporting the main arteries in delivering blood throughout the body, it would be beneficial to have more input and less restrictions on NGOs and local governments. 

The South Korean government has a new Minister of Unification, but does it really make a difference in terms of policy? If anything goes wrong, the Unification Ministry gets the blame. I thought that this government would support NGOs and individuals that aim to pursue exchange programs like family reunions with the North. If the South really believes that the North isnt a hostile country, why control such contacts so thoroughly? The methods being pursued are just as restrictive as previous administrations. 

It seems that the central government does not want to lose its leadership role in spearheading improving relations with the North. But the administration is emphasizing democratization. It would be fine if Moon let these people and groups take the initiative. If anything went wrong, the government could take responsibility. Why is the administration still trying to establish talks with Kim Jong Un? We have to win the hearts and minds of the North Korean people. America didnt succeed in this regard with the Iraqi people, which made things difficult.  

*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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2017.11.06
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