Recently, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, and Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea met in Pyongyang to discuss denuclearization and greater cooperation between both countries. Relations between Moon and Kim have accelerated since the Olympics, when the Kim regime sent a delegation to South Korea. In April, Moon and Kim met in Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone to discuss improving relations between both countries.
Both North and South Korea wish to arrive at a pledge to end the Korean War and have been explicit on arriving at a noticeable degree of partnership. Last year, Moon was sworn in partially on the promise of healing, furthering relations with North Korea, and arriving at a solution to officially end the Korean War.
Concerns may arise that haste on the part of the Moon administration may get in the way of talks between the U.S., and the Kim regime on denuclearization. Geopolitically, South Korea sits in a precarious location. It shares borders with its adversary, North Korea, and is proximal to Russia and China, the biggest opponents of the West.
On new policy in South Korea, the Moon administration has taken drastic measures to appear agreeable to its neighbors in the North. Recently, Moon has been cracking down on vocal opposition, primarily on the part of conservatives, censoring YouTube, and proposing broadcast reform bills. South Korea has reduced security along key defense routes near its border with North Korea. In addition, Moon has been vocal about desiring a reduction in U.S. forces on the Peninsula.
South Korea must consider what re-unification looks like without the U.S. present. Assuming denuclearization and military reform occurs, there will be no force in the region capable of opposing China. In recent years, the Chinese have shown that they will break international laws and defy established international borders to expand dominance in the China Seas. Without U.S. presence in South Korea it is realistic to imagine China threatening trade routes of top economies, South Korea and Japan.
South and North Korea are worlds apart on technological progress, and human rights. It is unlikely to imagine a transition as smooth as the reunification of Germany on the Korean Peninsula. It is also highly doubtful that the Kim regime will relinquish power and put an end to its death camps and gulags. If reunification on the Korea does occur, U.S. assistance will be necessary to maintain current the current equilibrium in South Korea.
Trust is a major issue when dealing with the current Chinese regime. As China’s power in the region has advanced, the China Seas have become more militarized and hostile. In 2014 after illegal maritime expansion on the part of China became apparent, Japan decided to reinterpret its constitution to allow for collective self-defense. While Japan’s military has developed rapidly, it is vastly outnumbered by China’s military. Consequently, the Xi regime has spoken extensively with South Korea on defining terms and conditions of reunifying the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea realizes its regional vulnerability and has communicated with both China and Japan to resolve past issues and enter into greater security on partnerships with both countries. In 2015, the South Korean President attended a military parade in China, and recently addressed Japanese use of Korean comfort women from 1932-1945.
It is advantageous for South Korea to engage with its neighbors on trade and diplomacy. However, the Moon administration must realize that much of the progress that has been made on North Korean denuclearization likely would not have been possible without economic actions taken by the Trump administration. While President Moon should have autonomy in enhancing relations with North Korea, he must do so at a measured pace. Rushing toward reunification of the Peninsula on Moon’s terms may result in becoming a vassal state to China.
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