One of the most noticeable achievements of the first Moon Jae-in meeting with President Joe Biden is that it is spreading awareness about North Korea’s human rights situation. The U.S.-South Korea leaders’ joint statement stated, “We agree to work together to improve the human rights situation in the DPRK.” The statement also revealed the direction the leaders are taking when it mentioned, “As valued by democracies … we share our intent to promote human rights and the rule of law, both at home and abroad.” The statement also covers issues concerning Hong Kong and the Uighurs in China.*
President Moon has seldom expressed his opinion about human rights in North Korea. Instead, the Moon administration makes evasive claims about how humanitarian aid contributes to improving human rights. In order to be taken seriously, President Moon must terminate the law banning anti-North Korea leaflets that is drawing criticism from the international community for suppressing freedom.
Once again, the issue of North Korean denuclearization was left unresolved at the Moon-Biden meeting. Still, the North has no intention of relinquishing its nuclear weapons, and the U.S. has no intention of lifting its sanctions on North Korea. President Moon overstated the result of the meeting, calling it the best one ever, and read too much into the fact that the Panmunjom-Singapore Declaration was included in the joint statement.
However, these declarations were rendered ineffective, just like prior statements including the July 4 Joint Statement, the Joint Declaration of Denuclearization, the U.S.-North Korea Geneva Agreement, the Sept. 19 Joint Statement, and the Feb. 29 Agreement. Rather, it is important to notice that the statement includes the phrase, “full implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” In Particular, President Biden made it clear that he would not make his decision based on Kim Jong Un’s word, “have no illusions.”*
President Biden appointed former Ambassador to South Korea Sung Kim, as the U.S. special representative for North Korea Policy, but this is only a gesture by the U.S. to show the North that the U.S. has not given up on negotiations. Currently the ambassador to Indonesia, Kim won’t be able to act as a special representative until U.S.-North Korea negotiations officially begin.
It is rather symbolic that the U.S. government is going to provide a vaccine to 55,000 Korean soldiers. Since the 2018 Singapore Summit, the U.S. and South Korea have reduced or stopped joint training exercises. The outbreak of COVID-19 last year became a good reason to postpone the joint training. The United States intends to resume large-scale, live joint training as soon as possible, and not merely conduct a computer simulation. The outgoing and incoming ROK-U.S. combined forces commanders are demanding the live joint training as well. These are the very touchstones for normalizing the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, the quoted remarks could not be independently verified.