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Moon can slurp gravy from no-beef summit

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President Moon Jae-in watches the live broadcast of the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore during his meeting with aides at Cheong Wa Dae. Korea Times file
President Moon Jae-in watches the live broadcast of the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore during his meeting with aides at Cheong Wa Dae. Korea Times file

This is the second in a series of commentaries assessing a changing geopolitical landscape after the June 12 Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. ― ED.

By Oh Young-jin

First, the headline requires explaining.

It doesn't mean President Moon Jae-in was impolite enough to make noise while eating but rather he is the only one who can afford to do so among leaders of the three countries in the game of the North's denuclearization.

In other words, Moon's position has been made even more solid, giving him more leeway than at any other time to maneuver.

The other two ― U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ― are in the middle of assessing their positions after their June 12 summit in Singapore.

For Trump and by extension Kim, there is little beef from the summit so to speak.

Trump has delivered few of his pre-summit promises of the North's denuclearization.

If the summit were a zero-sum game, Kim looked an outright winner.

But Kim's position can be fluid as well.

His communist dynasty has been insulated from treacherous market forces so an attempt to open it up could backfire and take his regime down.

Then, Trump will surely try to turn it into a positive sum game, reducing Kim's sphere of movement.

So the real winner was outside the ring, looking at the match from Cheong Wa Dae, the presidential office in Seoul, South Korea.

What are Moon's winnings?

President Moon Jae-in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of Trump's June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in talks with U.S. President Donald Trump on the eve of Trump's June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Yonhap

First, Moon's role as an honest broker is now hard to dispute.

At the start of the Kim-Trump summit, Moon declared that it was an historic act of dismantling the last remnants of the cold war, praising the two for their courageous decision.

Moon received a phone call from Trump the day before and the day after the summit.

Moon also had two meetings with the North's Kim at the truce village of Panmunjeom.

After his election in May last year, he was taken lightly when he expressed his desire to sit in the driver's seat and take ownership of Korea's future.

The North's Kim scorned it, while Trump showed little intention to recognize such a role for Moon.

What a difference one year can make!

Trump the dotard threatened to rain fire and fury and destroy Kim the little rocket man's North Korea. Kim threatened to turn Washington into a bowl of fire with his nuclear-armed long-range missiles.

Now the two foes met, shook hands, talked about peace and complimented each other.

That means peace for now. As Washington and Pyongyang are negotiating what Trump called the "process" to denuclearize the North, the worries about war can be set aside.

Before the current mood of detente came and when Moon insisted that peace was the only choice for Korea, he was regarded as naive pacifist.

Pundits mocked Moon, pointing out that it has been Korea's fate to be at the mercy of big powers, being located at a crossroads of continental and ocean powers.

They would say that getting out of it was not possible and Koreans should accept that fate.

Few would dare to repeat their claims now.

It was his friend and mentor's dream come true.

Fifteen years ago, the late President Roh Moo-hyun, under whom Moon served as chief of staff, had dreamed of becoming a regional "balancer of power" to coordinate the big powers but it proved premature as Roh was shunned by the U.S. and was under fire from the domestic conservatives.

But can Moon drench himself with a sense of his mission accomplished?

No, for two reasons at least.

First, it can't be ruled out that the North and the U.S. can turn adversarial as quickly as they turned friendly.

That requires Moon's steady hand and audacious leadership. Soon enough, his ability will surely be put to the test.

Perhaps more challenging is how to lead Korea in a changing world where the U.S. under Trump is disengaging from Asia, while China is set to fill the vacuum and dominate the region.

Would Moon engineer an inter-Korean relationship in a way to make the two Koreas cooperate and present them as one force united against a big power?

Can the two Koreas overcome the memories about their fratricidal war, remove suspicions about each other and build confidence and trust for that partnership/alliance/brotherhood?

It is increasingly looked at as a race against time. And time appears to be running rather fast.


Oh Young-jin foolsdie5@koreatimes.co.kr


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