On June 24, 3,000 protesters stood hand in hand to create a human chain around the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. The peaceful action was led by the National Task Force to Oppose THAAD Deployment, whose demand to the U.S. government remains unchanged since July of last year — “Rescind the decision to deploy the THAAD system.”
(Video Source: Voice of People)
The protest was organized ahead of the upcoming summit between Moon Jae-in and Donald Trump in Washington DC. The two heads of state are scheduled to meet on June 29 and 30 in Moon’s first visit to the U.S. since his election in May.
How the two leaders handle the THAAD issue at the summit could be an indicator of U.S.-South Korea relations in the months to come. Earlier this year the United States forcibly deployed the THAAD radar and two interceptor missile launchers into the deployment site in Seongju. Four additional launchers are also deployed in S Korea although they have not yet made their way into the deployment site. Moon recently suspended the deployment of the remaining launchers in order to conduct an environmental impact assessment. South Korean people continue to fight to oppose the deployment.
Will Moon press the Trump administration to re-negotiate the deal made between the previous Park Geun-hye and Obama administrations? Based on recent media reports, it doesn’t seem likely. Newly-appointed South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-hwa, speaking at the JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum 2017, recently stated, “There is no intention to cancel or rescind the THAAD deployment decision… The THAAD deployment was a decision of the [US-ROK] alliance, and as an alliance, we will continue to cooperate with the foundation of mutual trust.”
Moon appears more concerned about ensuring the THAAD deployment follows proper democratic procedures than reversing the deal altogether. This is certainly not an encouraging sign for the people of South Korea who have been struggling for nearly a year to oppose the THAAD deployment. If Moon sings the same tune as his foreign minister at the summit this week, he may face an uproar upon his return from the very people who voted him in.
Engaging North Korea
Top on the agenda at the summit will be how the two countries will approach North Korea. Moon has expressed his intention to resume talks and engagement with North Korea. Trump, on the other hand, has adopted the strategy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” The United States has intensified pressure by increasing sanctions and conducting military exercises that rehearse the invasion of North Korea, but how it intends to carry out the “engagement” part of its strategy is unclear.
In a recent interview with CBS This Morning, Moon spoke about the need for dialogue as sanctions and military pressure have not been effective in resolving the nuclear issue between the U.S. and North Korea. In response, co-host Norah O’Donnell said to Moon, “But it’s not clear that, even under President Trump, that he will agree to allow you to negotiate with the North Koreans without any preconditions.” Moon was diplomatic, but what he should have said in reply is — “If South Korea requires the permission of the U.S. to engage in diplomatic relations with another country, then we must question the nature of the relationship between the United States and South Korea — is it an alliance between equal partners or a colonial relationship?”
So far, Moon has been extremely careful about expressing any opposing view to the U.S. despite his promise to resume peaceful engagement with North Korea. Earlier this month, his administration supported new UN sanctions against North Korea, which led to the cancellation of a planned inter-Korean civilian exchange in Pyongyang on June 15.
The Moon administration also distanced itself from its own policy advisor, who recommended the U.S. reduce its military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Moon Chung-in, the Special Adviser for Unification, Foreign and National Security Affairs to Moon Jae-in, faced heavy criticism from South Korea’s right-wing media last week for suggesting that the U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) reduce its strategic nuclear weapons and scale down military exercises. Moon Chung-in made those remarks at a seminar organized by the East Asia Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC on June 16. After such backlash, the Moon administration made clear that the views of Moon Chung-in do not reflect its own.
Despite the Moon administration’s publical disavowal of the remarks, Moon Jae-in himself recently suggested a two-staged approach to confronting North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities, and it includes a proposal for the U.S. and South Korea to scale down their joint military exercises in exchange for North Korea’s freeze of its nuclear and long-range missile program.
If South Korea is to assert its sovereignty, Moon Jae-in cannot be afraid to challenge U.S.’ policy on the Korean Peninsula. If Trump undermines his aspiration to engage North Korea, how will he respond? The upcoming summit will be a test for Moon on whether he will bow to the U.S.’ agenda, as his predecessors have done, or take the initiative to restore peace on the Korean Peninsula.
By ZoominKorea staff
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