Center-left Democratic Party politician Moon Jae-in has won the country's snap presidential elections. Moon says he is willing to negotiate with Pyongyang on its nuclear program, his approach contrasting with that of President Donald Trump, who wants to maximize pressure. But the two approaches may well serve to complement one another, experts say.
On Wednesday, South Korea's Electoral Commission declared that Moon Jae-in, the former human rights attorney and student activist-turned opposition leader, had won the country's snap presidential election with over 40% of the vote.
Russia and China each welcomed Moon's victory, congratulating him on his win. Moscow also said that it welcomed Moon's promises to work to settle issues raised by the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system in South Korea in talks with both the US and China. Observers were also impressed by Moon's proactive comments about a possible visit to Pyongyang for talks, a stark contrast from the policy of his predecessors.
Some analysts pointed out that Moon's election raises questions about whether the US is really satisfied with the election results, given that Seoul may now be looking to strengthen its ties with China, Russia, Japan, and even learn how to say "no" to Washington.
Others suggest that Moon's election should not be misinterpreted to mean that Seoul will be willing to make unilateral concessions regarding Pyongyang and its nuclear and missile programs.
Speaking to Sputnik Korea, Cheon Seong-Chang, director of the department of unification strategy studies at the Sejong Institute, a leading South Korean national security think tank, said that Trump's strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang may actually complement President Moon's plans.
The expert explained that while Moon is widely perceived as a supporter of rapprochement with North Korea, his approach has also been pragmatic, the politician avoiding making concrete promises. Therefore, if an agreement cannot be reached, South Korean-US cooperation on anti-North Korean sanctions may actually be strengthened under the new president.
It was significant, Cheon noted, that Seoul and Pyongyang will be marking the 10th anniversary of the Inter-Korean Summit declaration of October 4, 2007. In that document, the leaders of the two countries reached tentative agreement on several key issues, including the suspension of North Korean missile and nuclear testing and the opening of the Kaesong Industrial Zone, followed by four-party negotiations including China and the US, and by a reduction in the number of US-South Korean military exercises. The North Korean nuclear disarmament program would follow.
Nearly a decade on, the analyst stressed that success in these negotiations in these areas will not be easy for the new Moon government. "However, in order to resolve the Korean crisis, it will be necessary to simultaneously exert pressure and maintain sanctions, and, on the other hand, to reach certain compromises," he added.
Analyzing President Moon's priorities on North Korea, Cheon remarked that pressure from the US and China have already effectively prevented Pyongyang from conducting a sixth nuclear test, and from carrying out further ICBM testing. "This created conditions which were favorable for the start of a dialogue between Pyongyang and the new South Korean government," the expert noted.
In other words, Cheon stressed that "Donald Trump's plan to maximize pressure on North Korea, and [Moon's plans] to engage Pyongyang in dialogue not only do not contradict one another – they complement the plans of the newly elected South Korean president regarding the resolution of the Korean issue."
Now, Cheon noted, the main task of the Moon government will be "to pave the way for the freezing of the North Korean nuclear program, by concluding a moratorium agreement on nuclear testing and missile launches. After dialogue on the highest level leads to the suspension of nuclear testing, in 4-party talks, it will be necessary to achieve the complete freeze of [Pyongyang's] nuclear program."
"If North Korea agrees to the [talks'] conditions and freezes its nuclear assets, a situation where the country has 50 nuclear weapons by 2020 can be prevented," the security analyst said.
Naturally, he added that if Pyongyang does go ahead and freeze its weapons programs, the international community must follow up by easing sanctions, and Seoul and Washington must reduce the number of joint US-South Korean military exercises they hold in the Korean Peninsula.
The next steps would be a resumption of the 6-party talks, the destruction of North Korea's nuclear weapons, steps to ensure peace in the Korean peninsula, and the normalization of relations between Pyongyang, the US, and Japan.
Ultimately, Cheon admitted that for all this to take place, it will also be necessary to change the formula of inter-Korean diplomacy at the ministerial level. Specifically, this includes the transformation of the Committee for Korean Unification, currently endowed with the ideology of liquidating North Korea as a state, into a 'Committee for the Peaceful Development of the Korean Peninsula.'
This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.