President Moon Jae-in will be leaving for the U.S. on Sept. 18, 2017 to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Although the United Nations Security Council recently passed another resolution to step up sanctions against North Korea, Pyongyang tested its missile capacity again – with an intermediate-range ballistic missile this time – raising more concerns from the international community than usual and eventually adding great significance to the meeting as a global diplomatic forum. During his trip to New York, Moon will face the challenge of enlisting the cooperation of member states to implement sanctions in response to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile provocations which went off without a hitch. It is also imperative for Moon to resolve differences among U.S. and Japanese leaders, and to engage China and Russia, which have offered lukewarm responses to requests to pressure the North, in a process of imposing sanctions on the recalcitrant regime.
Given these circumstances, the Moon administration’s stance on North Korea is a worrisome factor. The administration has made multiple statements that conflict with the international consensus at global diplomatic events, including at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations held last July in Germany. On July 6, 2017, two days after Pyongyang’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile during a speech to the Körber Foundation, Moon proposed the so-called Berlin Initiative – which suggests holding military talks between the two Koreas as one of the major steps toward peace on the Korean Peninsula – confusing the leaders of the G-20 countries. To no one’s surprise, Pyongyang’s response to this dialogue-oriented approach has been a series of nuclear missile threats.
Nevertheless, Seoul approved an aid package for the North, and the aid decision is now upsetting the alliance among the region’s three traditional allies. Evidently, Washington is uncomfortable with the South’s humanitarian gesture, which it believes is at odds with its struggle to persuade China to play an active role in exerting pressure on Pyongyang. Shinzo Abe, on the other hand, has reportedly asked Moon to reconsider the timing of the aid. Any cracks in the trilateral alliance, coupled with Beijing and Moscow’s reluctance to impose sanctions on the rogue regime, would make Kim Jong Un's reckless nuclear missile gamble inexorable, causing national security anxiety in the South.
Moon’s visit to the United Nations will be a good opportunity to call for international cooperation with regard to North Korea, which has not ceased its provocation. However, if his administration insists on offers of assistance to the North despite the global sentiment at this critical moment, nothing will stop Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions. It is not the time for Seoul to be worried about the malnourished classes in the North, but instead to focus on how to protect its 50 million citizens, who are being held hostage by North Korea’s nuclear threats.