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Onus on new South Korean leader

Almost all of a sudden, the apparently imminent danger of a military showdown on the Korean Peninsula seems to have evaporated into thin air.

A government delegation from North Korea talked with American political experts in Oslo, Norway, on Monday through Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, the freshly elected Moon Jae-in, who advocates engagement with Pyongyang, was sworn in as the new president of South Korea. At least for now, a temporary relaxation in the once inflammable tensions in the area looks credible, thanks to such precious highlights in the bleak geopolitical landscape of Northeast Asia.
Even better, the region has a precious opportunity to heal some of its most damaging recent rifts.
Although Pyongyang keeps clamouring, it will conduct its sixth nuclear test “at any time”, and it is ready to enter a nuclear duel with the United States. Although Washington has distanced itself from the Oslo talks, and ruled out any change to its preoccupation with “maximum pressures” on the DPRK. And although it remains to be seen how far Moon can overcome the potential drags at home in Parliament, where his party lacks a majority, when he does reach out to the DPRK.
Given US President Donald Trump’s recent indication of his willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who knows whether or not the informal contact in Oslo will pave the way for more formal, direct engagement?
After all, the White House has left that door open; Pyongyang craves it; Beijing would welcome it; and it would certainly be in Seoul’s interests. Coordination with Washington then will be Moon’s foremost foreign policy challenge.
Since it is anticipated he will take a milder approach to North Korea than his predecessor, he will have to first straighten things out with decision-makers in Washington, who until now have favoured imposing further isolation and sanctions.
Moon’s expressed disfavour towards the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system is certainly conducive to his aspiration for repairing his country’s strained ties with China. It is hoped that he has the ability to manoeuvre a meaningful change to the current impasse.
Yet if their shared interest in peacefully denuclearising the peninsula does lead to constructive interaction among stakeholders, and the threat from across the 38th Parallel diminishes, Moon surely can make a stronger case for removing THAAD. For if THAAD is meant solely and specifically to address escalating threats from North Korea, why should it stay if such threats de-escalate?

Published : May 14, 2017

By : China Daily Asia News Network Beijing