While Washington D.C. and Pyongyang are busy powering up for a standoff over nuclear tests and ballistic missiles, South Korea has shifted the playing field considerably for all sides by electing President Moon Jae-in.
The Korean peninsula was already bristling with the heady mix of tension, sanctions, nuclear testing, dictatorship, corrupt leaders, severed relations, and, most recently, a glittering parade of ballistic missiles in the North.
What will Moon bring to the table and how is he different from his disgraced predecessor? His history, his career, and his words make it clear that he plans to take a new approach with his Northern neighbors. Even without South Korea in the mix, however, the North is mired in deep entanglement with the United States and, to a certain degree, China. Tensions are high all around.
Tensions are High on the Peninsula
This past year speaks for itself. The repetitious game of mutual intimidation between North Korea and the United States culminated in Trump bragging about the size of his nuclear button on Twitter.
Kim Jong Un and his administration are on high alert over relations with U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who favors tough sanctions and a less-than-tolerant stance on Kim’s nuclear program.
We have only to look at President Trump’s constant berating of former President Obama’s administration for enacting a dialogue with Iran. The subsequent deal with Iran over their nuclear program has been one of President Trump’s favorite policies to criticize. We can gather that he’s not a fan of dialogue when it comes to wrangling an agreement with unpredictable foreign governments and their nuclear programs.
As a result of the tough political stances taken by the current administration in Washington and Kim Jong Un, there’s now a standoff between the two countries. Nothing is moving forward except, apparently, Kim’s nuclear testing program and his ballistic missile fleet.
Meanwhile, China, North Korea’s main partner in trade, has agreed to U.N. sanctions. They will ban the import of coal for the rest of 2017. More tension for North Korea.
The Economics of Change
Reuniting with the North could mean massive turmoil for the South. It’s easy to see the benefits for North Korean people if they merge economies and cultures with the South. But what will the South gain?
Cheap labor, for starters. That’s a very big start since the South Korean economy is suffering and stagnant. Access to cheap labor would spark a business revival, hopes Moon: “Economic integration will… give the South a new growth engine, which will revive the South Korean economy.”
So we have a long standing battle to put North Korea on the path to denuclearization. But the question who is right and who is wrong? Trump insisted on though North Korean sanctions and military provocation but Moon Jae-In prefers to negotiate towards a peaceful Korean peninsula without war. This puts two Koreas in jeopardy of going to war, not to mention the possible involvement by world superpowers like Japan, the United States, Russia, and China which could spark another World War in the twenty-first century.
Needless to say, South Korea is about to hold the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018 and this has the potential to bring economic opportunity and sports diplomacy to the Korean peninsula. Certainly everyone around the globe, including Moon Jae-In, is hoping it eases dangerous nuclear tensions.