Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON – Pro-Northers have got to be more than a little disappointed by the recent summit between the presidents of the Republic of Korea and the United States.
Judging from all the blather they were emitting before the summit, the pro-North crowd would have far rather seen President Moon Jae-In and President Trump pulling out their stilettos, jabbing one another with sly innuendos if not full-frontal attacks.
Imagine, then, their disappointment to have seen Trump agreeing South Korea should play the lead role in negotiations with North Korea and President Moon should do all he can to encourage dialogue and reconciliation. For that matter, Moon seems to have agreed that North Korea has to be persuaded to halt its nuclear program – something he had said long before the summit but reiterated again here in Washington.
The pro-Northers ― those who advocate just about anything to bring about a phony “peace” without North Korea giving up its precious nukes and missiles ― were no doubt not too happy that talk about THAAD was sublimated during the summit.
Moon may not be enthusiastic about the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery, but he hardly seems inclined to tell the Americans to tear up that THAAD counter-missile battery from its resting place on a former Lotte golf course way south of Seoul. Oh, he may not want to see those four remaining launchers ― the ones that were trucked down without his knowledge ― going on site right away, but eventually they too should show up.
As for talk about a mutual “freeze,” that is, the notion of South Korea and the U.S. canceling military exercises while the North promises not to indulge in more missile and nuke tests, that crazy idea also seems to have been more or less overlooked in the summit. After all, it shouldn’t take too much common sense to realize the North Koreans would go right on fabricating nukes and missiles, and conducting military exercises too, while South Korean and U.S. forces did nothing to sharpen their own defenses.
You know how disappointing to the Northers was the “chemistry,” as Trump put it, between him and Moon from the tone of a quite amusing editorial in the North’s party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.
Far from welcoming the prospect of North-South dialogue, as endorsed at the summit, all the Rodong Sinmun could say was the talkfest showed the U.S. treating South Korea “as a mere puppet and colonial servant.”
The paper, once seemingly enthusiastic about Moon’s election as President after having reviled his unfortunate predecessor, Park Geun-Hye, as “witch” and “whore,” suddenly saw the South Koreans “seized with sycophancy and submission to the U.S. occasioned by the chief executive’s first junket to the U.S.”
How long will it be before the North Koreans begin attacking Moon with the same venom reserved for previous South Korean presidents? It’s to be hoped Moon will at least get the chance to pursue his own version of the dormant Sunshine policy, breathing new life into fainting hopes for eventual inter-Korean reconciliation.
Unfortunately, North Korea does not appear at all likely to be so charitable toward Trump. The North Korean propaganda machine is already reviling him as a “Hitler” ― surely not nice considering he’s praised Kim Jong-Un as “a smart cookie” and famously said he’d like to sit down and have a hamburger with him.
Actually, Kim Jong-Un, presumably masterminding the propaganda blitz on all fronts, should be glad that Trump may not be as hawkish or fearsome or threatening as believed. Yes, he’s said the U.S. might have to take matters into its own hands if China’s President Xi Jinping doesn’t rein in his North Korean protectorate. No, Trump obviously doesn’t want a second Korean War ― a calamity that might engulf the Korean peninsula if he were to order the dreaded “preemptive strike” on the North’s missile launch sites and nuclear facilities.
The real dividend of the Moon-Trump conflab is that both of them really want to give peace a chance. Moon badly wants to see where he can go in dialogue with North Korea, and Trump, on good advice from Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence, all of whom visited Seoul earlier this year, is encouraging him to do that.
So what happens if the North doesn’t respond? Calls for ever stronger sanctions, and pressure from China, would definitely be on tap. But before that happens, sorry pro-Northers, we should be in for some interesting attempts at inter-Korean diplomacy. That’s far preferable to the ultimate alternative ― a war nobody wants that could spread through the region.
Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org