Moon seeks to break dead­lock

Scep­ti­cism abounds over pres­i­dent’s strat­egy for sum­mit with Kim

The Star Malaysia - - World -

SEOUL: The shine is start­ing to come off South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in’s en­gage­ment strat­egy with the North.

The lib­eral politi­cian, who re­versed nearly a decade of con­ser­va­tive hard-line pol­icy to­ward North Korea af­ter his elec­tion last year, is prepar­ing for a third sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un amid grow­ing pub­lic scep­ti­cism about his ap­proach.

Moon, who goes to Py­ongyang to­mor­row, has seen his ap­proval rat­ing fall to 49% in a re­cent Gallup Korea sur­vey, the first time it dipped be­low 50% since he took of­fice in May 2017 promis­ing bet­ter ties with North Korea and po­lit­i­cal re­form.

Moon’s ap­proval rat­ing stood at 83% af­ter his first sum­mit with Kim in April.

South Kore­ans are divided over whether this week’s sum­mit in Py­ongyang will help break a stale­mate over nu­clear diplo­macy be­tween the US and North Korea, ac­cord­ing to an­other sur­vey re­leased in early Septem­ber.

By com­par­i­son, sur­veys af­ter the April sum­mit found over­whelm­ing sup­port for Moon from a pub­lic fas­ci­nated with the his­toric hand­shakes, border cross­ings and other dra­matic scenes the two lead­ers pro­duced af­ter years of ris­ing ten­sions.

“Our peo­ple are be­gin­ning to learn that North Korea will not eas­ily give up its nukes, some­thing that many ex­perts had al­ready re­peat­edly pre­dicted,” said Kim Tae­woo, for­mer pres­i­dent of the gov­ern­ment­funded Korea In­sti­tute for Na­tional Uni­fi­ca­tion in Seoul.

Moon may face in­creas­ing diffi- cul­ties if his sum­mit with Kim in Py­ongyang fails to make tan­gi­ble progress on ef­forts to get North Korea to scrap its nu­clear weapons programme.

Eco­nomic woes such as a lack­lus­tre job-mar­ket growth and soar­ing real es­tate prices are com­pound­ing Moon’s prob­lems, adding to op­po­si­tion to his North Korea pol­icy, many ex­perts say.

“If Moon fails to ad­dress eco­nomic prob­lems, he can’t main­tain pub­lic con­tent­ment with his gov­ern­ment only with his North Korea pol­icy,” said Nam Sung-wook, a pro­fes­sor at Korea Univer­sity.

“If the econ­omy gets worse, many peo­ple will de­mand that Moon stop look­ing to North Korea and start re­solv­ing our own eco­nomic prob­lems.”

Moon knows how im­por­tant pub­lic sup­port is for his North Korea pol­icy.

Most ma­jor de­tente projects with North Korea started by his lib­eral pre­de­ces­sors dur­ing a 1998-2008 “Sun­shine Era” were sus­pended af­ter con­ser­va­tives took power.

Moon hasn’t been able to re­vive them be­cause of US-led eco­nomic sanc­tions on North Korea.

Lib­eral pres­i­dents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun en­dured with­er­ing con­ser­va­tive crit­i­cism that their lit­tle-strings-at­tached ship­ments of aid and co­op­er­a­tion projects with North Korea helped fi­nance the North’s weapons programme.

Moon served as Roh’s chief of staff and was in charge of prepa­ra­tions for Roh’s 2007 sum­mit with Kim’s fa­ther, for­mer North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

South Korean pol­i­tics is char­ac­terised by a fun­da­men­tal con­ser­va­tive-lib­eral di­vide over how to view North Korea.

Lib­er­als con­sider the North one to rec­on­cile with while con­ser­va­tives see it more as an en­emy state that poses a sig­nif­i­cant se­cu­rity threat.

Moon’s con­ser­va­tive pre­de­ces­sors, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, faced harsh crit­i­cism from lib­er­als that their hard-line stances only led North Korea to carry out more weapons tests and at­tacks such as two in 2010 that killed 50 South Kore­ans.

Our peo­ple are be­gin­ning to learn that North Korea will not eas­ily give up its nukes, some­thing that ex­perts had re­peat­edly pre­dicted. Kim Tae­woo

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