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Title ROK’s New Role in the Korean Peninsula Issues: A Fusion Approach Date 2019.05.03

Tae-Hwan Kwak(Former President of KINU, Chair Professor, Kyungnam University )

Attach Dr. Kwak's Special Contribution to IFES_05022019.docx
Since Chairman Kim Jong Un’s authority and face were undermined by the breakdown of the 2nd US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27-28, 2019,  Pyongyang has sent hostile signals toward Washington and Seoul.  Specifically, North Korea has expressed the disappointment about the second summit, frustration, and dissatisfaction with the 'facilitators' or 'bridge-building’ role of the Moon Jae- in government through several North Korean media. Going one step further, North Korea began to show its complaints about Seoul’s role in the US-North Korea negotiations.

North Korea suddenly withdrew their staff from the inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong on the unilateral notice on March 22, 2019, 190 days after the opening of the office on September 14, 2018.  Pyongyang has not given the reasons for the complete withdrawal, but fortunately, North Korea returned the Kaesong joint liaison office after three days of absence.
DPRK Foreign Affairs Vice-Minister Choi Sun-hee officially criticized the Moon government at a press conference in Pyongyang on March 15, 2019.  She said, "South Korea, an ally of the US, is not a mediator, but a player.”  The meaning of the word is that the Moon government stops to act as a mediator or a facilitator between the North and the United States. North Korea wants the Moon government to stand by Pyongyang, playing its role as a party to the resolution of the Korean peninsula issues.

North Korea’s magazine, “Mae-ari,” blatantly criticized the Moon government on March 22. " It must act as a party, not a mediator or facilitator," and " it will have to act as a party to ask for what is required and to speak to the United States," it said. North Korea's intentions were embedded in this word. It is believed that North Korea wants the Moon government to play a more active role in breaking through the stalled US-North Korean relations as a party. Besides, it is presumed that North Korea's complaints about the Moon government would have affected Pyongyang’s decision to withdraw from the South-North Joint Liaison Office in Kaesong on March 22, 2019.  

It is, however, realistic for the ROK government to play an active role as a party to the Korean peninsula issues, rather than as a party required by the DPRK. Now is the time for the ROK government, who had expected an optimistic view of the second US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, to play an active and positive role as a party, beyond the facilitator or a bridge-building role over the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

North Korea must now have a very negative perception of the Moon government. It is North Korea's perception that the ROK-US working group is interfering with the North-South cooperation project. So far, the Moon government has succeeded in improving US-North Korea relations through the improvement of inter-Korean relations, but Pyongyang's demand for Seoul to act as a party is a considerable challenge to the Moon government from now on. North Korea's series of actions have made North Korea a message to the ROK government that the South-North relations should be improved and that inter-Korean relations can continue to develop. Therefore, the current US-DPRK relationship has darkened the development of inter-Korean relations.

Without progress in future negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, it could be interpreted to mean that it could be challenging to improve inter-Korean relations further. The improvement in inter-Korean relations may be tied to President Trump's political calendar.  If President Trump determines that the resolution of a nuclear issue with North Korea will be helpful to his 2020 re-elections, he will send a green signal to Chairman Kim Jong Un at the latest this fall.

Then, the author would like to propose to the Moon Jae-in government that needs to play a new role in making the roadmap for the denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.

When we analyzed the factors leading to the breakdown of the 2nd US-DPRK summit in Hanoi, the US and North Korea had different approaches to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, thereby failing to reach an agreement on their negotiations on the core nuclear issues.  It is regrettable that the US-DPRK summit collapsed primarily due to ‘no deal’ in negotiations. However, Trump and Kim will agree to a roadmap for the denuclearization and a peace regime on the Korean peninsula shortly, because of their strong will to negotiate, and their willingness to implement the four principles in the June 12 joint declaration. For realizing the denuclearization and a peace regime, the author would like to propose a new fusion approach below. 

I argue that the principal obstacle to US-DPRK negotiations through their summit talks is no roadmap for the denuclearization and a peace regime. The absence of an agreed roadmap could not lead to successful negotiations. In the future, no one can forecast when President Trump will suddenly switch his North Korea policy, considering his political interest.  Therefore, it is imperative that the US and the DPRK first build mutual trust. In the absence of mutual trust, the DPRK could not accept the ‘big deal” proposed by the United States.

From different perspectives of Washington and Pyongyang, the US insists on “all or nothing” approach or “big deal, “and the DPRK insists on “a phased, simultaneous approach.”  Both sides understand that the two approaches are incompatible with each other.  I want to point out that both sides understand each approach is a mutually exclusive concept. Therefore, I argue for the fusion approach, i. e., the fusion of the two approaches, emphasizing that both can be complementary, not mutually exclusive. The author would like to propose a new fusion approach to the denuclearization-peace regime building on the Korean peninsula.

When the two approaches are grafted into a new fusion approach, it should be included in a roadmap for the denuclearization-peace regime building on the Korean peninsula. In this case, the two approaches can be complementary.

Then, what is the new role of the Moon Jae-in government? The US-DPRK summit talks were held in the wake of the Moon government's ‘bridge-building role. However, the ROK should be liberated entirely from the "facilitator" or "Bridge-building role," and from now on, the ROK should play a more proactive role as a direct party to the resolution of the Korean peninsula issues.

In other words, the Moon Jae-in government’s new role is to map out a roadmap for the denuclearization and a peace regime and to reach an agreement on the roadmap at US-DPRK-ROK trilateral summit. The fusion formula includes two complementary approaches contained in the comprehensive roadmap. 

The roadmap created by the fusion approach will be implemented by the US and the DPRK sincerely and faithfully.  If the US and the DPRK positively support the new role of the Moon government and agree to the roadmap, including the entry and exit strategies through the trilateral summit, the non-nuclear-peace era on the Korean peninsula would come in the foreseeable future.

Dr. Tae-Hwan Kwak, Professor Emeritus at Eastern Kentucky University, former President of KINU (Korea Institute for National Unification), Chair-Professor and former Director of IFES, Kyungnam University, is a specialist on Northeast Asian affairs, inter-Korean relations, and Korean peace and unification issues. He taught international relations over thirty years in at Eastern Kentucky University and Korean universities. Dr. Kwak is a recipient of the Global Peace Foundation's 2012 Innovative Scholarship for Peace Award. He has worked more than fifteen NGOs. He is now Chairman, Institute for Korean Peninsula Future Strategies. Chairman of the Korean Peninsula Unification Council through Neutralization, Executive Adviser of Korean-American Public Action Committee (KAPAC), and President of Korean Unification Strategies Research Council (LA, USA). Dr. Kwak is the author, editor, and co-editor of 31 books, including One Korea: Visions of Korean Unification (Routledge,2017), etc.  He has authored more than 300 articles and is a freelance writer for Korean daily newspapers, monthly magazines, and the Internet.