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Experts forecast Moon's North Korea policy

[As Heard in North Korea]
Kim Ga Young  |  2017-05-16 16:06

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting North Korean citizens.

Interest is growing in regards to how the first liberal South Korean President elected in nine years intends to interact with the North Korean leadership and people. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pursued a policy of nuclear armament and strict controls over the population despite international pressure and sanctions. But will the Moon administration succeed in coaxing the Kim regime, or make it more hostile?   

The possibility of a North-South high-level summit, the re-opening of the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex, and reexamination of the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system are all items that Moon Jae In mentioned on the campaign trail. This marks a departure from the right-leaning Park government, which instituted pressure and sanctions against the North in response to its belligerence. Some of Moon’s stated positions are likely to be seen as a welcome reprieve by Kim Jong Un. 

From the regime’s perspective, a liberal South Korean government could mean opening the door for talks, negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and a de-emphasis on the US-ROK alliance. Up until the day of the May 9th election, North Korea’s Party-run newspaper was calling for “a liquidation of the revisionist conservative power.”   

Analysts believe that Kim Jong Un likely expects the Moon administration’s North Korea policy to echo the engagement-oriented “Sunshine Policy” instituted during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun eras. To learn more, Daily NK contacted two experts on the topic. 

[Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) Senior Researcher Cho Han Bum]:

Kim Jong Un’s goals are to get the Kumgang Mountain Tourism Area and the Kaesong Industrial Complex re-opened, and to have the May 24th Measures [South Korea’s sanctions levied against the North] lifted. The Kim regime might inwardly be anticipating such developments due to the rise of the Minjoo Party government. This explains why the North refrained from engaging in provocations during the election process. 

But it is difficult to conclude that a liberal South Korean government will automatically seek favorable relations with the Kim regime. It is possible that President Moon will look to forward-thinking policies to address North-South relations and the nuclear problem. It will not be easy for the South to break apart from the international approach to the North, which currently favors increasing levels of pressure.    

In particular, the Trump administration is likely to use sanctions and diplomatic isolation as its central approach to the North, making it difficult for South Korea to go against its ally in pursuing rapprochement. In addition, China has also issued warnings to the North by hinting at the suspension of crude oil exports to the North. If progress is not made towards the formation of a denuclearization policy, it will be hard to re-engage in negotiations.    

[Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Institute Director Cheon Hyun Jun]: 

Groundbreaking improvements in the North-South relationship will be difficult because America is strengthening its North Korea policy in response to issues such as the THAAD installation controversy and the growing North Korean nuclear threat. In this regard, some of Kim Jong Un’s positive expectations are likely to be curtailed by these issues. 

Even if North-South relations flourish and there is some hope that the North will reform, this might not be a favorable outcome from the point of view of the regime. As North Korea pursues its 'isolation strategy,' it buys itself more time to develop nuclear weapons and can close off its residents from the influence and developments occurring in the outside world.  

However, there are some experts who are optimistic about the prospect of improved North-South relations and exchanges that can improve the living conditions of the residents. The rationale is that these can stimulate a change in awareness among the general population through the introduction of outside information and the formation of new relationships. 

[Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) Senior Researcher Cho Han Beom]

As they [the North Korean residents] encounter more and more information from the outside world, natural changes will begin to emerge. North-South contact and helping the North Koreans to attain objective information are better accelerators of change than deliberately intervening to enforce change.  

For the first time in nine years, a new government is in power in South Korea. All eyes are on Moon Jae In to see whether his North Korea strategy can effectively change Kim Jong Un’s calculations and improve the resident’s lives.  

[Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Institute Director Cheon Hyun Jun]

If North-South relations improve, an increasing number of North Korean residents will expect the country to open up. Many will start to believe that increased openness will improve their standard of living. I also think that this will lead to North Korean residents taking on a more realistic understanding of South Korea.    

This is why some are suggesting that it might be more effective to study methods for interacting and influencing the North Korean population rather than attempting to change the North’s leadership. 

*Edited by Lee Farrand

 
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2017.04.25
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