South Korean President Moon Jae-in is coming to Washington and will meet President Joe Biden on May 21.
Moon’s term in office ends next year, but he’s got a big objective: to ‘school’ Biden on North Korea and convince him to follow Moon’s own approach to dealing with Pyongyang and its dictator Kim Jong Un.
Moon’s approach: hold talks with North Korea and offer ‘sanctions relief.’
Moon says he is confident Kim will make concessions, and via a ‘mutually trusted roadmap’—Kim will eventually give up his nuclear weapons, and there will be peace on the Korean peninsula.
One doubts, however, that Moon has ever seen a copy of the mutually trusted road map.
Since taking office in 2017, Moon has been trying out the policy he plans to sell to Biden.
The results: North Korea still has nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them. And the arsenal is expanding and improving. North Korea also remains as hellish a place as ever.
And making Moon’s sales job even tougher, South Korean leftist administrations—of which Moon was part—have applied the same approach whenever they’ve been in power over the last twenty years.
There was the so-called Sunshine Policy in the early 2000’s that sought to resolve differences between the two Koreas by giving the Kim regimes presents and money.
And one leftist-South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung, even won a Nobel Prize for his efforts—though it was later revealed that $450 million dollars (paid under the table and without telling the Nobel committee) were what got the Kims to play along for a while.
Moon Jae-in is also telling the Americans to cooperate with China so Beijing will help deal with North Korea.
That’s already a familiar mantra in the United States. “Must have China’s help to solve the North Korea problem.” Yet, there’s not a shred of evidence China has ever helped. Instead, successive U.S. administrations (until Trump) hamstrung themselves and avoided challenging—or even criticizing—Chinese misbehavior elsewhere on the globe.
At some point, one concludes this isn’t Jimmy Carter style naiveté on Moon’s part. Twenty years of failure—and insisting on ‘more of the same’ suggests Moon and South Korea’s leftists don’t have America’s (or even South Korea’s) best interests at heart.
Rather, maybe they have somebody else’s best interests at heart—Kim Jong Un’s and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s—for whom Moon’s approach seems tailor made.
Put simply, Moon is telling Washington: hold endless fruitless talks with North Korea, remove sanctions (making things easier for Pyongyang), and go easy on China. Meanwhile, North Korean and Chinese military capabilities strengthen—while America’s become relatively weaker.
And don’t forget that South Korean and U.S. military exercises have been pared down or even cancelled at Moon’s insistence.
If the idea is to eventually destroy the ROK-U.S. alliance and get the Americans off the peninsula, this is one way to do it. And if you think it’s the United States that keeps Korea ‘divided’—this may seem attractive.
One fairly doubts Moon likes America all that much. Indeed, evidence suggests the opposite. He was once a student radical—pro-North Korea and anti-American. And Moon is on record about his delight on hearing America lost in Vietnam. He has never explained this away as youthful stupidity.
And his administration is full of so-called ‘Jusapas,’ one-time radicals who appear unrepentant even now.
Taking one example, consider Lee In-young, the Unification Minister appointed in July 2020. Read the transcript of his confirmation hearing in the National Assembly.
Lee is biting his tongue but doesn’t seem to have changed much since his days as the #2 person in the Anti-American Youth Association. This was the underground organization providing leadership to Jeondaehyup, the violent, radical 1980s student organization based upon North Korea’s Juche ideology.
Or how about Cho Kuk, whom Moon nominated for Minister of Justice? He founded the Socialist Workers League of Korea—calling for armed revolution in South Korea.
Tara O of East Asia Research is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the backgrounds, ideologies, and political objectives of Moon Jae-in and South Korea’s leftists. The information is in plain sight.
But maybe there’s no option to ‘dialogue and concessions?’
It is often argued that since Seoul is within North Korean artillery range—and now nuclear weapons range—there is no alternative to doing what Moon says—talk and concede.
However, Seoul has been within artillery range since 1950—yet North Korea has never ‘pulled the trigger’—even when it is being sanctioned and threatened with destruction if it causes trouble, and loudly criticized for its human rights abuses.
Indeed, strength and toughness—and a perceived willingness to use force—are more stabilizing than appeasement—if recent and far distant history tells us anything.
But isn’t it true that sanctions don’t work?
No. They never have been seriously tried against North Korea.
Showing what could have been, the G.W. Bush administration sanctioned Banco Delta Asia in Macau in 2006 for handling North Korean funds. This sent the North Korean regime for a loop—and the Chinese as well.
Unfortunately, before long the Bush administration removed the sanctions (and even gave Pyongyang its money back) in exchange for a promise to talk.
Few people remember now–since it is clouded by the distant mists of 2018—that Donald Trump levied powerful sanctions on North Korea—and was moving towards sanctioning major Chinese banks. In effect, giving China a choice of doing business with the United States or with North Korea.
This approach rattled Pyongyang (and Beijing) and was working until Moon undercut then President Trump by inviting North Korea to join the South Korean Olympic team and launching his latest appeasement campaign. This gave Trump little choice but to go along or else risk being accused of infuriating a key ally–and not ‘giving peace a chance.’
So now it’s President Biden’s turn to experience Moon’s hard sell.
He may wish to consider the words of a high-ranking North Korean defector, Ri Jong-ho, who was asked by this writer in a recent interview if he had any advice for Biden: “Moon is a ‘con man.’”
Moon Jae-in does bring to mind an investment advisor, admittedly one with a pleasant manner, who has lost your money (and a lot of it) every single year.
And then he comes over to your house insisting that you invest more of your cash with him—as he’s got a really good strategy.
But it’s the exact same strategy he’s used before to lose your money.
Only a fool gets out the checkbook.
So Biden ought to give Moon lunch and have a polite meeting—and thank him for his advice. But don’t follow it.
Instead, do the only thing that has ever worked: Isolate the Kim regime, pressure (and punish if necessary) the nations, organizations, and people that support it, describe Kim as a brutal tyrant often and loudly, and be ready and able to destroy him if necessary—and leave no doubt you can and will do so.
Kim Jong-un is the one with the problems. Let him simmer. If he wants to talk, and is serious, then talk. But don’t think money, presents, or favors will work. Or in other words, that Moon Jae-in’s approach will work.
But there is also some good news for Team Biden: large majorities of South Koreans support the ROK-U.S. alliance. And large majorities don’t care for the Chinese regime, nor do they want to be like—or be a part of—North Korea.
Moon Jae-in only reflects a slice of the South Korea body politic. It is possible that next year’s South Korean presidential election will bring to power South Koreans who have both South Korea’s and America’s interests at heart.
Grant Newsham is a retired U.S. Marine officer and a former U.S. diplomat and business executive who lived and worked for many years in the Asia/Pacific region. He served as a reserve head of intelligence for Marine Forces Pacific, and was the U.S. Marine attaché, U.S. Embassy Tokyo on two occasions. He is a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.