South Kore­ans di­vided on diplo­macy with North

Moon gives sense of hope with Kim talk

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR


thump-thump-thump of mor­tar rounds in the dis­tance came in jar­ring suc­ces­sion on a re­cent day in the north­ern­most vil­lage on South Korea’s side of the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone.

Although it was only the sound of a nearby South Korean mil­i­tary live-fire prac­tice range, the rounds and few ar­tillery blasts were stark re­minders for some 300 res­i­dents of Myeongpa-ri of the high stakes in talks be­tween North and South.

“Peo­ple here want to see this diplo­macy work,” said vil­lage chief Chang Sok-gwan.

As a jeep full of sol­diers in cam­ou­flage rum­bled by, he said South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s “in­ten­tions are right” in push­ing for di­a­logue with the North’s Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Chang’s sen­ti­ment is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of hopes across South Korea, even as anx­i­ety mounts ahead of what will be the first meet­ing be­tween lead­ers from North

and South in more than a decade when Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim come to­gether for a sum­mit on April 27.

With­out ques­tion, Mr. Moon has brought a wave of op­ti­mism to the South af­ter the coun­try’s suc­cess­ful host­ing of the Win­ter Olympics. Many saw it as an epic achieve­ment a year af­ter a po­lit­i­cal melt­down that cul­mi­nated in the im­peach­ment of Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye.

But the is­sue of diplo­macy with North Korea, as well as the prospect of a di­rect meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Kim Jong-un, re­main sen­si­tive and di­vi­sive be­neath the sur­face in Seoul.

Con­ser­va­tives and older cit­i­zens — peo­ple who re­mem­ber the Korean War and the decades of du­plic­i­tous North Korean pos­tur­ing that has re­sulted in a nu­clear-armed Py­ongyang — say Mr. Moon is pan­der­ing to a regime that sim­ply can­not be trusted.

“We’re go­ing to be dragged along by the North Kore­ans,” Seoul res­i­dent Jang Yoon-mi, 60, told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Polls might say 70 per­cent of South Kore­ans have a pos­i­tive view of diplo­matic de­vel­op­ments, but I think the polls are wrong. Even the younger gen­er­a­tion here be­lieves the re­sult of the up­com­ing Moon-Kim sum­mit won’t be pos­i­tive.”

But even af­ter years of hos­tile rhetoric and threats from Mr. Kim, many young peo­ple in Seoul say the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter than the prospect of war. They ex­press hope that diplo­macy leads to some­thing akin to the 1990 uni­fi­ca­tion of East and West Ger­many.

Even if there were at first very dif­fer­ent sys­tems in Py­ongyang and Seoul, per­haps the North even­tu­ally might open and change. That was the think­ing that un­der­girded Mr. Moon’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign last year.

The lib­eral hu­man rights lawyer has a his­tory of back­ing the “Sun­shine Pol­icy” of diplo­matic out­reach to North Korea. He was once chief of staff to Pres­i­dent Roh Moo-hyun, a strong pro­po­nent of the pol­icy, which fac­tored heav­ily in the last ma­jor push for diplo­macy by No­bel Peace Prize re­cip­i­ent Kim Dae-jung, who held the pres­i­dency from 1998 to 2003.

Let the sun shine?

Talk of the Sun­shine Pol­icy in­creas­ingly has found its way onto Seoul’s univer­sity cam­puses in re­cent months.

“There’s an old Korean fairy tale about how the sun and the wind fight to get some­one’s coat off,” stu­dent Yoon Jin-choe, 23, told The Times. “The wind blows up a big storm and re­ally tries, but it only makes the per­son wrap his coat more tightly. It’s only when the sun shines that it be­comes so warm the per­son just takes off his coat.

“I think that’s why its called the Sun­shine Pol­icy,” she said. “I know Kim Jong-un is a bad guy, not only be­cause of the nu­clear thing, but be­cause he just kills a lot of his own peo­ple and he doesn’t care about peo­ple starv­ing.

“But the ap­proach Moon is tak­ing is bet­ter than hos­til­ity,” Ms. Yoon said. “It’s a very hope­ful mo­ment right now.”

She said she was amazed in early April when Mr. Kim sud­denly al­lowed for a con­cert in Py­ongyang by acts from the South, in­clud­ing the K-pop girl band Red Vel­vet.

“When I saw the pic­ture of Kim Jong-un look­ing at the South Korean singers, I was kind of touched be­cause it looked like a mir­a­cle to me. I mean, how can Kim Jong-un be with Red Vel­vet?” Ms. Yoon said, laugh­ing. “I think that’s all the work of Pres­i­dent Moon. It wouldn’t have hap­pened were it not for his ef­forts.”

But where will such the­atrics re­ally lead?

“It’s def­i­nitely a pos­i­tive sig­nal that the North and South are fi­nally com­mu­ni­cat­ing with each other and try­ing to open their minds through cul­tural as­pects,” said Kang Suyeon, 21. “But I’m not sure if it can lead to the po­lit­i­cal as­pects.

“Kim Jong-un was re­ally rad­i­cal and re­ally closed be­fore. He was re­ally pro­vok­ing Trump and Trump was also pro­vok­ing him, and now he’s chang­ing his at­ti­tude?” said Ms. Kang. “I’m not re­ally sure what he’s up to.”

‘We should start a war’

The prospect for diplo­macy with the North hinges on the idea that Mr. Kim is se­ri­ous about aban­don­ing his nu­clear pro­gram. But sus­pi­cion about his in­ten­tions are deep in Seoul.

“North Korea is ly­ing,” said Oh In-suk, a 90-year-old South Korean war vet­eran. “They want to sus­tain their regime, and they’ll say any­thing to do it.”

Mr. Oh sat on a bench near a busy in­ter­sec­tion in Seoul as he spoke with The Wash­ing­ton Times. When asked how he would re­solve the North Korea cri­sis, he slowly re­moved his cap and rubbed his bald head be­fore re­spond­ing: “It’s im­pos­si­ble to talk with the North Kore­ans. We should start a war and then force re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion on the South’s terms.”

Oth­ers cringe at the idea of a war but say regime change — not ap­pease­ment — needs to be the goal.

Such feel­ings are strong among some of the more than 30,000 North Korean de­fec­tors liv­ing in the South.

“The Moon gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ac­tion with Kim Jong-un is a very sad thing,” said Jun-hun Choi, a de­fec­tor ac­tive in an or­ga­ni­za­tion of for­mer North Korean mil­i­tary of­fi­cials who have fled to the South.

“Ul­ti­mately, what we want is regime change,” Mr. Choi, 47, told The Times, sug­gest­ing that diplo­macy could be a pos­i­tive step only if it is pinned to ag­gres­sive goals and hu­man rights.

“When the Moon ad­min­is­tra­tion came in, they ex­tended the Kim regime’s life span,” he said. “They’re not in­ter­ested in sav­ing the North Korean peo­ple.”

Hope along the DMZ

Back in Myeongpa-ri, the tiny vil­lage in South Korea’s north­east, Mr. Chang said the long-term goal has to be some form of uni­fi­ca­tion be­tween North and South, and it has to start some­where.

“The di­a­logue chan­nel is open, and I find this very en­cour­ag­ing,” the 63-year-old vil­lage chief told a group of re­porters, who were given a tour of the vil­lage by South Korean of­fi­cials.

Many in Myeongpa-ri are older refugees of the war.

“Some say they want to walk across the bor­der to visit their home villages if re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion hap­pens,” said Mr. Chang.

The feel­ing is shared among other refugees who have lived for decades in the nearby city of Sock­cho, where 72-year-old Park Kyung-sook, who ar­rived in the South when she was 3 years old, said Mr. Moon “is do­ing well” to make a sum­mit hap­pen with Mr. Kim.

“He’ll do what he can to make it work,” she said. “I just hope they find a com­mon ground or some unity and can open the way for re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion.”

Closer to the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone, which has di­vided the Korean Penin­sula for more than 60 years, there are hopes that the sum­mit will lead to a re­open­ing of the North-South bor­der for tourism.

A mas­sive In­ter-Korean Tran­sit Of­fice that once pro­cessed South Korean tourists — al­lowed dur­ing the last warm­ing of re­la­tions to tra­verse the DMZ and visit a re­sort on the north­ern side where pris­tine moun­tains meet the sea — has sat idle since a 2008 in­ci­dent in which North Korean sol­diers gunned down a tourist on a beach.

A train sta­tion and rail­road tracks lead­ing north from the of­fice feels ghostly. But Woo Gyenkeum, a South Korean of­fi­cial over­see­ing the of­fice, said all could change quickly if the Moon-Kim sum­mit goes the right way. If the green light is given, said Mr. Woo, “we could have the trains up and run­ning in a month.”


AN­TIC­I­PA­TION: South Kore­ans are watch­ing as Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in (left) pre­pares to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the first sum­mit be­tween North and South lead­ers in over a decade.


The South Korean mil­i­tary se­cures the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone and con­tin­ues con­duct­ing mil­i­tary ex­er­cises. Young peo­ple in Seoul say the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is bet­ter than the prospect of war, but some who re­mem­ber hos­til­i­ties think dif­fer­ently.

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