|President Moon delivers a speech at the 75th United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 23. Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in's speech early Wednesday morning at the 75th United Nations General Assembly contained some proposals on engaging North Korea.
Political watchers, however, generally view the proposals, including declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, as unrealistic in the current deadlock in inter-Korean and denuclearization talks.
Moon called for the support of the international community in declaring an official end to the war, which was halted by an armistice, not a peace treaty. He also proposed the establishment of a new network of countries in Northeast Asia, including the two Koreas, China, Japan and Mongolia, to promote cooperation in infectious disease control and the promotion of public health.
A push for a declaration ending the Korean War was one of the highlights of the 2018 Panmunjeom Declaration, the outcome of Moon's first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. But the move has failed to capture the attention of the relevant parties, particularly with the deadlock in U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks.
Under these circumstances, Moon's message has been met with the criticism that it lacked basic attention to the realities of U.S.-North Korea, U.S-China and inter-Korean relations. In particular, some experts pointed out that the speech did not contain much that North Korea would want to hear, and that it was unwise to bring up new proposals when there has not been much follow-up on those highlighted in last year's U.N. speech, in which Moon underscored three "principles" ― zero tolerance for war, a mutual security guarantee and co-prosperity ― for resolving issues related to the Korean War.
"From the North Korean perspective, what they want to hear most is realistic steps toward mutual security, which was highlighted during Moon's U.N. speech last year," Hong Min, director of the North Korea division at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told The Korea Times. "What they want to hear most is for South Korea to suggest military talks to discuss mutual security."
Not only did Moon's message lack any enticing proposals for Pyongyang, some experts see the renewed focus on a declaration ending the war as highly problematic in that the relevant parties ― the U.S. and China ― are not interested in it at this point, not to mention the North Korea problem in general. U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not mention anything about North Korea during their respective speeches at the General Assembly.
|U.S President Donald Trump is seen on a video screen remotely addressing the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 22 at U.N. headquarters. AP-Yonhap|
In particular, some experts say the escalating U.S.-China rivalry amid the COVID-19 pandemic is highly unconducive to discussing any such declaration.
"It is not the right timing for a South Korean leader to talk to the international community about a declaration ending the Korean War. The proposal is incompatible with the situation in U.S.-North Korea, U.S.-China and inter-Korean relations," a professor of North Korean studies told The Korea Times on the condition of anonymity.
"The declaration is an understandable ideal for the current South Korean government. However, while President Moon has cited the urgency of global cooperation to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, it unfortunately is a problem that has dramatically elevated Sino-American confrontation in recent months. The elevated Sino-American confrontation amid the pandemic is highly unconducive to a peace declaration. Therefore, a peace declaration is unthinkable in this confrontational environment between Washington and Beijing."
Concerns are rising that Moon's rush to declare an end to the war may trigger opposition from the U.S. and also a strong backlash at home, as the declaration is also linked to extremely touchy topics such as the status of the U.S. Forces Korea.
There is also criticism that Cheong Wa Dae failed to coordinate with the relevant countries in Northeast Asia before the speech.
"We do not have anything to share with the media on whether there was prior coordination," a senior presidential aide told reporters, Wednesday. "The message was transmitted this morning, so we are not expecting immediate results. We will continue to be patient and prepare for what is ahead."