|President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un greet each other at the northern side of Panmunjeom in May 2018, a few weeks ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June. Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae|
By Do Je-hae
The possibility of another summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this year is gaining attention thanks to moves by the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK).
The ruling bloc began floating the idea of a fourth summit between the two following Moon's New Year speech Monday, which showed his unwavering commitment to renewing talks with the North "anywhere anytime."
Moon's close aides, including senior secretary for political affairs Choi Jae-sung and DPK Rep. Youn Kun-young, a former presidential aide involved in preparations for the Moon-Kim summits in 2018, are highlighting the need for another inter-Korean summit this year to revive momentum for the President's "peace process" on the Korean Peninsula.
"The launch of the U.S. Joe Biden administration will bring changes in the environment within and outside Korea," Choi said during a media interview, Wednesday. "So it could be worthwhile to explore the possibility of an inter-Korean summit which can be further momentum."
Some experts say that an inter-Korean summit is a possibility, as Kim will be eager to get international sanctions relaxed to enable economic development, which he underlined as a key priority during the eighth Workers' Party of Korea Congress held recently. To facilitate this, they added, there is the possibility that Kim may respond to calls for talks with South Korea before engaging with the incoming Biden administration. Moon and Kim met in May 2018 at the Northern side of the border village of Panmumjeom before Kim met with U.S. President Donald Trump a few weeks later in Singapore for a first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit.
"A 2021 inter-Korean summit, in person or online, is possible. Kim should know that Washington won't engage Pyongyang around Seoul. Hence Kim has an incentive to at least entertain meeting with Moon if he wants to get to Biden," Sean King, senior vice president at Park Strategies, told The Korea Times.
But the timing of the ruling bloc's push for the summit is raising questions about its motive. Moon's proposal for talks, even in an online format, came after the North Korean leader had rejected previous proposals for inter-Korean cooperation, and vowed to build up his country's nuclear capacity during the party congress.
|President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sit face to face during a meeting at Panmungak in North Korea in May 2018. Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae|
Some raise concerns that an inter-Korean summit this year could further create the impression that Seoul is being pressured by Pyongyang to make politically costly compromises to fabricate momentum in the peace process. "The summit could happen, but it will be damaging to the current president's legacy and the management of inter-Korean relations in the long run," a North Korean studies professor told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity. .
The opposition reacted by brushing off Moon's proposal as wishful thinking. Some critics say it has more to do with improving the negative sentiment toward the President and the ruling party ahead of mayoral by-elections in April, and the lame-duck period looming over Moon's presidency.
Some political watchers are questioning the effectiveness of engineering public support with a big inter-Korean event in the final phase of a presidency. "An inter-Korean summit could have a positive impact by temporarily picking up public support during an election season," Choi Jin, director of the Institute of Presidential Leadership, told The Korea Times. "But it will not be enough to turn around public sentiment. The ruling bloc should be very careful about pushing for a plan that could possibly create a backlash against them."
Other analysts said a summit would be contingent on how much of a compromise the South Korean government will make to accommodate North Korean demands on economic sanctions and management of the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
|President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un enjoy entertainment during a dinner party for Moon and first lady Kim Jung-sook during their visit to Pyongyang in September 2018. Courtesy of Cheong Wa Dae|
"An inter-Korean summit this year is definitely possible ― but first Kim would like to see signs of a real loosening of the Korea-U.S. alliance and also the easing of sanctions," Donald Kirk, a columnist on Korean Peninsula affairs, told The Korea Times. "It's far from certain what is likely to happen next, but the U.S. and South Korea may consider the statement made by President Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore in June 2018.
"They promised at that time to look for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. From there, the U.S., South Korea and North Korea negotiators might review a range of options. Kim talked of fearsome weapons at the eighth party congress, but such boasts may be a facade covering terrible economic problems, on which he focused. Under the circumstances, he might agree to a summit provided he sees concessions, that may or may not be possible."