Certainty is key
PRESIDENT Moon Jae-in’s mission in upcoming summit talks with US President Donald Trump is clear: dispel scepticism about the South Korean government’s position on relations with the US and its policy on North Korea.
Such scepticism is especially rampant when a liberal president takes power in South Korea while a Republican leader occupies the White House. This is partly due to how South Korean liberals tend to lean towards North Korea and move away from the US.
Whether intended or not, Moon has fuelled the scepticism. He halted the deployment of a US missile shield system in South Korea, citing the need for a legitimate, transparent process, including an environmental review. The South Korean president essentially put the brakes on an “alliance decision”.
A joint letter by a bi-partisan group of 18 US senators demonstrates how the US is taking the latest developments in South Korea. The letter was addressed to Trump, but what the senators emphasised may well be applied to Moon, too.
What the senators mentioned constitutes the most contentious issues Moon and Trump should tackle in their first summit meeting tomorrow: Reiteration of the commitment to implement a full range of sanctions against North Korea; the full deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system at an early date; and full and fair implementation of the South Korea-US free trade agreement.
Trump had previously made conflicting remarks on Korean affairs. In effect, the senators are pressing both Trump and Moon to reaffirm the alliance and agree on a joint stance on North Korea.
It will not be easy for Trump and Moon to reach an agreement on all pending issues. But that does not give them room to expose differences on key issues such as the THAAD deployment and North Korea. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is too grave to allow any crack in the alliance.
Moon ought to dispel the worries and scepticism of Trump and other US leaders regarding his approach towards North Korea, and US relations.