Tue, Feb 26, 2019 - Page 9 News List

US-Pyongyang summit crucial for South’s Moon

By Kim Tong-hyung  /  AP, SEOUL

“The nuclear weapons are gravity that pulls the regime together,” Thae said. “They make up for the North getting behind in the inter-Korean competition and provide an instant solution to the North’s inferiority in conventional military power against the United States and South Korea.”

While Moon focuses mainly on North Korea, there is criticism that huge problems are being mishandled at home. There is discontent over a rapidly decaying job market — the 1.22 million South Koreans measured as jobless last month represented the highest number in 19 years. The bad economy has also compromised government efforts toward reforming powerful family-owned conglomerates often accused of monopolistic behavior and corruptive ties with politicians. There is also worry over the long-term effects of a falling birthrate as many women put off marriage and childbirth because of financial instability, grueling working hours and limited daycare services.

Deep gender, age and political divides seem to be coming to a head on the eve of an election year, and the ruling liberals have seen their popularity decline over scandals, including the arrest of a pro-Moon provincial governor for his involvement in manipulating online opinions ahead of the 2017 presidential election.

“Inter-Korean relations have been the only thing going well for the Moon government, but enthusiasm will quickly wane if we go through event after event without producing real changes on denuclearization,” said Yul Shin, a politics professor at Myongji University in Seoul.

The Koreas in recent months have taken military measures to reduce conventional threats, opened a liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and vowed to pursue a bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

Now they want sanctions dialed back so they can resurrect two major symbols of rapprochement that provided much-needed hard currency to North Korea: a jointly run factory park in Kaesong and South Korean tours to the North’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort.

One potential deal could see Pyongyang agree to verifiably dismantle its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and freeze its nuclear program. Washington, in return, could agree to take steps to free up inter-Korean activities at Kaesong and Diamond Mountain, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul and one of Moon’s policy advisers.

However, Trump would need to go through an exhaustive process to soften US sanctions because of a 2016 law that demands significant progress not only on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament, but also on its human rights record for punitive measures to be suspended or removed.

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