Moon Chung-in, a professor emeritus at Yonsei University, gives a lecture at the Free University of Berlin on June 15. (Noh Ji-won/The Hankyoreh)
“This ‘values diplomacy’ President Yoon Suk-yeol is pursuing seems quite arbitrary. Even as he stresses values like freedom, human rights and democracy, [Yoon] is embracing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia based on economic pragmatism.”
This is what Yonsei University Professor Emeritus Moon Chung-in said regarding the Yoon administration’ “values-based diplomacy” on Thursday, the 23rd anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit, during an interview with the Hankyoreh following a public lecture at Free University of Berlin.
This statement was given in response to an audience member who asked whether the Yoon administration’s values-based diplomacy, as seen through its cooperation with Japan, was indeed practical.
Moon is an expert when it comes to international politics and issues concerning the Korean Peninsula and served as presidential special advisor for unification, diplomacy, and national security affairs during the Moon Jae-in administration. The lecture was given in English.
Commenting on how current government figures like Yoon and Kim Tae-hyo, the first deputy director of the National Security Office, have stressed values like “freedom, human rights, and democracy,” Moon pointed out, “[They] say [they] are cooperating with Japan because [they] share common values with it, but I’ve noticed an inconsistency.”
Then, he cited the example of Yoon meeting with Muhammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, an autocratic country, as well as visiting Vietnam, which is ruled by a one-party dictatorship, based on “economic pragmatism.”
“It seems like Yoon’s values diplomacy is in fact aimed at North Korea, China and Russia,” Moon said. “The Yoon administration needs to reconcile its values-based diplomacy with its pragmatic diplomacy. Even some in the US call this the result of idealistic diplomacy.”
In other words, Moon highlighted how, despite its emphasis on freedom, human rights, and democracy and subsequent hard-line statements against countries like North Korea and China, the Yoon administration has proved itself inconsistent in applying its own standards.
To a question asking about North Korea-Russia relations as seen through the war in Ukraine, which was initiated by a full-scale invasion by Russia, Moon noted, “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s congratulatory telegram to President Vladimir Putin contained statements about developing close ‘strategic cooperation’ with Russia.”
“Expressing unilateral support for Russia when the issue at hand is about Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory may turn out to be a big gamble for North Korea,” Moon continued. “Because it looks like North Korea has become an essential part of Russia, and it will be very difficult for North Korea to justify this [going forward].”
On June 12, to mark Russia Day, Kim had dubbed relations between North Korea and Russia a “precious strategic asset” and emphasized the two countries’ “neighborly and cooperative relations.”
Moon also projected that, realistically speaking, negotiations or dialogue regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons are unlikely to be rekindled any time soon. The scholar predicted that the likelihood of the US taking proactive action to solve the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons is low, as a presidential election is scheduled to take place in the US next year, stating, “Beginning in August this year, Biden will not have time to take initiatives.”
Talking about the Yoon administration’s policy of matching might with might when it comes to North Korea, Moon told the Hankyoreh, “In the one year since the Yoon administration took off, [North Korea] fired 74 missiles through 30 ballistic missile test launches. During the five years of the Moon administration, it conducted 43 ballistic missile test launches, firing 67 missiles. It’s conducted more missile tests during one year of the Yoon administration than during five years of the Moon administration.”
Moon then stressed the importance of “crisis stabilization,” explaining, “Because South Korea and the US have been conducting joint military drills and emphasizing the frequency and intensity of these drills, North Korea has test-fired missiles as a reaction, getting caught in a vicious cycle.”
Specifically, he argued that both South and North Korea should make efforts to ease tensions, the former by reopening its direct hotline with North Korea and securing a solid communication channel, the latter by abstaining from testing nuclear weapons and missiles.
“It’s such a paradox that today, on the 23rd anniversary of the 2000 inter-Korean summit, South Korea and the US are conducting live fire training unprecedented in intensity,” Moon lamented, adding, “This gives the impression of completely negating the past.”
Although it’s unlikely that negotiations will resume any time soon, Moon nevertheless underlined the importance of diplomatic negotiations.
“For now, [relevant parties] should meet without condition and compromise and narrow [their differences],” Moon stated, further adding, “If South Korea halts joint military drills [as North Korea wants], North Korea should also listen to South Korea and the US. A seventh nuclear test should not take place, test launches of ballistic missiles should cease, and efforts should be made to prevent accidental armed conflict in the Demilitarized Zone in the West and East seas.”
Moon also pressed home that a six-party security summit in Northeast Asia involving the US, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea, or even a seven-party meeting including the European Union, for the sake of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace in East Asia may be one solution. Because denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is unrealistic without changes in the landscape of security in East Asia, leaders of the aforementioned six countries should be able to meet and discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as well as peace and stability in Northeast Asia in a summit, he argued.
“Only, as the chance of the US or China taking the lead is realistically low, inviting the EU and giving it the role of ‘facilitator’ could be an alternative,” Moon went on.
By Noh Ji-won, Berlin correspondent
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