News Analysis: Mood gets right for "meaningful" dialogue between S.Korea, DPRK

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-02 16:48:47|Editor: xuxin
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By Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, June 2 (Xinhua) -- A mood is getting right for a "meaningful" dialogue between South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as new governments both in the United States and South Korea were launched to see the DPRK's nuclear issue as a top priority, an expert said.

"A mood is right for a meaningful dialogue between Seoul and Pyongyang because the Moon Jae-in government seems to view improving inter-Korean relations, at least reducing the existing tensions between the two Koreas, as a top priority," Bong Youngshik, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

President Moon Jae-in was sworn in on May 10 after winning a sweeping victory in the president by-election that came from the impeachment of his conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye, who held on to a hard-line policy of sanctions and pressures toward the DPRK.

The Park administration focused on consolidating the traditional U.S.-South Korea military alliance, while trying to improve a bilateral partnership with China based on the traditional alliance. "Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it backfired," said Bong.

The reinforced U.S.-South Korea security alliance, most of times, pressured the DPRK. It resulted in "quite frequent" DPRK provocations in reaction to the pressure diplomacy from conservative South Korean governments, according to the researcher.

The new South Korean president advocated the restoration of dialogue channels with Pyongyang, though he still hesitated to lift any unilateral and multilateral sanctions toward the DPRK. All the inter-Korean channels were cut off after the DPRK's fourth nuclear test in January last year.

U.S. President Donald Trump has told media that dealing with the DPRK's nuclear issue would be on the top of the list. There was a "sensible urgency" for the U.S. side as the DPRK may acquire a capability to strike the U.S. mainland before Trump's first-term ends in the next four years, the researcher noted.


President Moon was widely expected to inherit a so-called "sunshine policy" of trying to enhance inter-Korean ties through economic cooperation and cultural exchanges. The engagement policy was championed by former liberal South Korean leaders of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

Moon's sunshine policy would be different from those of his liberal predecessors as the policy evolved in the past 10 years under conservative governments. Moon's expected sunshine policy was often called "Moonshine Policy."

"The engagement policy toward the DPRK is not the same sunshine policy that we were used to be 10 years ago under the Kim Dae-jung government. A lot of things have happened, and a lot of things have evolved," Bong said.

The DPRK's nuclear and missile technologies have advanced for the past decade, while situations under top DPRK leader Kim Jong Un have been better informed to outside world than before.

An absolute precondition for any engagement policy to be successful, whether it's an old or new version, Bong said, would be for South Korea to get assurances from all relevant parties such as China, the United States, Russia and Japan.

Under the Kim Dae-jung administration, his sunshine policy was successful in late 1990s and early 2000s because the government "properly informed all the related parties about South Korea's roadmap" to improve inter-Korean relations and successfully banished their suspicion and distrust, the researcher noted.

At the time, there was "no hidden agenda that all these neighboring countries had to worry about," said Bong.

Right after his inauguration, President Moon dispatched special envoys to all major countries, including China, the U.S., Russia and Japan. It was aimed to "emulate the successful formula of the previous sunshine policy," according to the researcher.


Throwing a wet blanket on the dialogue atmosphere, the DPRK test-fired missiles three times since the new South Korean government was inaugurated. Two U.S. aircraft carriers, including USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan, reportedly conducted joint maritime drills on Wednesday in east waters off the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and the DPRK "are acting like chest-thumping warriors," said Bong.

For its part, the Trump administration worried that Pyongyang may not rush to go back to the negotiating table if the U.S. does not demonstrate its maximum military force to express its seriousness.

The mobilization of U.S. aircraft carriers was aimed to show that "all options are really on the table," according to the research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul.

The Trump administration unveiled a different kind of DPRK policy that involves maximum pressure and maximum engagement, throwing away his predecessor's so-called "strategic patience."

Bong said the DPRK had been reacting to the new South Korean government by firing missiles, which he claimed was the DPRK's own way of trying to pressure the outside world and open up dialogue and negotiations in terms that favor Pyongyang.

The DPRK implied, Bong said, the outside world had to pay the price that it will demand for talks, suggesting that the country was not just willing to accept any dialogue overtures as the DPRK was currently different from what it used to be 10 years ago.

The researcher recommended that the Moon government would focus on improving relations with the DPRK and defusing military tensions on the peninsula, saying that by doing so, South Korea would reduce its reliance on the military options.

It can lead South Korea to consider other options to deal with issues such as the DPRK's nuclear program and the improved relations with China as the reduced security threat on the peninsula can lower its reliance on U.S. forces stationed here.