On May 10-11, President Moon Jae-in exchanged views on key diplomatic and security issues during a telephone conversation with President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. President Moon confirmed the other countries’ basic awareness of the North Korean nuclear issue, the South Korea-U.S. alliance, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, and the consensus of South Korea and Japan on comfort women, and then promised cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. President Moon also agreed to hold a summit in the near future with the three leaders. He has taken the first steps to build peace on the Korean peninsula.
President Moon’s conversation with the three leaders marked the end of South Korea’s five-month absence of normal diplomacy since the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye. In the meantime, the country has repeatedly been excluded from negotiations over the North Korean issue as President Trump communicated solely with the Chinese and Japanese leaders. South Korea’s diplomatic isolation became so serious as to be termed “Korea passing.” It is our hope that the resumption of summit diplomacy will serve to calm the anxiety on the Korean peninsula.
Most importantly, it is noteworthy that President Moon has reached an agreement with President Trump over the strengthening of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and over cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue. Despite concerns that they would differ in their approaches to the North Korean issue, the two presidents confirmed their agreement. Such smooth cooperation between the two nations will not only be leverage to evoke cooperation from China, Japan, and Russia as well, but it will also send a strong warning to North Korea. It is also worth noting that President Moon clarified and received President Xi’s approval over the phone for his initiative on North Korean nuclear disarmament that was a combination of pressure, sanctions and dialogue. The main method outlined for sanctioning the nation was to lead North Korea to open up a dialogue. But this could collide with President Trump’s assertion that military action should remain an option for sanctioning North Korea. Such complications remind us that constant negotiation of ideas between the interested parties is needed to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
President Moon’s proposal to dispatch a special envoy to China to resolve the THAAD issue was timely. Such pre-emptive measures were needed to calm China, which has been strongly dissatisfied with South Korea’s unilateral decision to deploy THAAD. President Moon also announced for the first time that he will set the comfort women issue apart from other diplomatic issues and deal with it separately. Although the comfort women issue is a matter to be resolved, he is leading diplomacy in the right direction by not letting the matter hinder future developments between South Korea and Japan. President Moon should now come up with concrete measures for dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue that he could present to North Korea and its neighboring countries, and persuade them toward North Korean nuclear disarmament.