[Editorial] S. Korea needs to work with Biden administration to advance inter-Korean relations

Posted on : 2020-11-25 17:33 KST Modified on : 2020-11-25 17:33 KST
Vice President Joe Biden and Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken observe a press conference held by President Barack Obama at the White House in November 2013. (Reuters/Yonhap News)
Vice President Joe Biden and Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken observe a press conference held by President Barack Obama at the White House in November 2013. (Reuters/Yonhap News)

The US’ foreign policy and national security team in the Biden era has been announced. Antony Blinken has been nominated as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor. The two experts are longtime advisors of President-elect Joe Biden on foreign policy. On Nov. 23, the US General Services Administration declared Biden the winner in the presidential election, setting into motion the transfer of power.

Biden’s appointments to his foreign policy and national security team reveal his determination to “make America respected again” by moving away from Trump’s isolationism, restoring alliances, and bolstering multilateralism. That’s likely to elevate South Korea’s strategic status and also reboot its alliance with the US, which has been strained during the Trump administration by a disagreement over how much South Korea should contribute to the cost of stationing American troops in the country.

The position on the North Korean nuclear issue held by Biden’s appointees presents South Korea with both a challenge and an opportunity. Blinken has described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “one of the worst tyrants” in the world.

Blinken, who regards North Korea’s nuclear weapons as the only obstacle to regime change, has called for changing North Korea’s attitude through a comprehensive, continuous and relentless international pressure campaign led by the US, South Korea, Japan, and China. He emphasizes the need for pressure and tough sanctions against the North.

But Blinken has also opposed military solutions, including a preemptive strike against the North, and has left no doubt that diplomatic negotiations offer the only path to a solution.

During the Obama administration, both Blinken and Sullivan argued that the Iranian nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, should serve as the model for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. The Iranian nuclear deal, which was predicated on a comprehensive and lasting relationship, lifted sanctions on Iran and reintegrated it into the international community in exchange for Iran halting its nuclear development.

North Korea should note that the Iranian nuclear deal involved a gradual and step-by-step abandonment of nuclear development and system of compensation — the very approach the North has advocated.

In order to clear up the serious mistrust between North Korea and the Biden national security team and to make progress on a negotiated solution, it’s more important than ever for the South Korean government to play an instrumental role. South Korea needs to draw up a realistic plan for denuclearization based on its previous efforts to improve North Korea-US and inter-Korean relations, while staying in close contact with Biden’s foreign policy and national security team.

South Korea needs to take the initiative in making its case to the US and North Korea and in working with China and Japan to set the stage for negotiations. Since Biden values alliances, we hope he will take action to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and move forward with the Korean Peninsula peace process while paying heed to South Korea’s opinions.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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