|President Moon Jae-in attends the East Asia Summit, held virtually, at Cheong Wa Dae, Saturday. / Joint press corps|
By Kang Seung-woo
President Moon Jae-in hinted Saturday that South Korea will seek to revive stalled denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea at next year's Tokyo Olympics.
The negotiations on North Korea's nuclear disarmament have been deadlocked since the February 2019 Hanoi summit between Washington and Pyongyang failed to reach a deal. Seoul has recently been floating the Olympics-linked idea based on its successful track record of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018, in which the reclusive state participated, thereby leading to both improved inter-Korean and U.S.-North relations.
"As the PyeongChang Winter Games were the peace Olympics, if the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics pass without safety and coronavirus concerns, it will give the world greater hope for overcoming the coronavirus and bringing peace to the region," Moon said during a virtual East Asia Summit (EAS).
The EAS was also participated in by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O' Brien on behalf of U.S. President Donald Trump.
"The incumbent government is going all-out to take advantage of the Tokyo Olympics as momentum to resuscitate the nuclear talks," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.
Moon's remarks on Olympics-related peace efforts came weeks after O' Brien mentioned in mid-October the possibility that the U.S. and the North could resume denuclearization talks around the Tokyo Games, which are scheduled to take place from July 23, 2021 after a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It is known that O' Brien's idea came from by his South Korean counterpart Suh Hoon," Park said. Suh met with O' Brien in Washington, D.C., Oct. 14.
"In this regard, it is apparent that the Moon administration is desperately seeking to stage a three-way meeting between the two Koreas and the U.S. Keeping that in mind, South Korea is now trying to mend frayed ties with Japan."
Last week, President Moon sent the National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won to Japan for discussions with Prime Minister Suga on normalizing bilateral ties. Relations between the neighboring countries are at an all-time low after Japan retaliated with trade restrictions to Korea's Supreme Court ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate surviving Koreans forced to work for them before and during World War II. In addition, in his opening speech at the ASEAN+3 Summit, also held Saturday, Moon began his statement with a special greeting to Suga.
On Jan. 21, 2021, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th U.S. president and his win over Trump in the election is raising speculation that relations between the U.S. and the North may not be as good as under the Trump administration. The sitting president met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on three occasions, leading the dictator to self-impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.
However, Park said the idea would not be a bad option to the Biden administration, given that the incoming American commander-in-chief will face a lot of challenges to deal with during the transition period.
"During the transition, which may take up to six months, while the new U.S. government will be distracted by much more immediate, existential domestic problems, it also needs to prevent the North from staging a military provocation, given that such an action would cause another major headache to the new president," the professor said.
"In that respect, the Biden administration is not likely to provide a negative response to Moon's proposal to use the Tokyo Olympics as a tool to revitalize the nuclear talks."