Seoul mired in multiple diplomatic challenges

18-Feb-2020 Intellasia | KoreaTimes | 6:02 AM Print This Post

There is no breakthrough in sight for South Korea’s diplomatic efforts which are facing challenges that could hamper relations with its biggest partners ? the US, China and Japan.

Arguably one of the most pressing concerns for President Moon Jae-in’s diplomatic team has been to narrow differences with the US on some key bilateral issues such as North Korea.

President Moon’s engagement-centered policy toward the North has raised concerns over a potential clash with Washington’s consistent focus on the need to maintain sanctions on the country until it takes visible steps toward denuclearisation.

Moon said that he will look to engage with North Korea on projects such as tourism and inter-Korean railways, but Washington has not responded positively to these proposals for advancing inter-Korean relations. Latest news reports from US media outlets such as CNN said US President Donald Trump does not want a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un before the presidential election in November.

But despite this, Cheong Wa Dae is still looking for ways to revive moribund North Korea-US denuclearisation talks. “We do not believe that such reports reflect the policy of the US government,” a senior presidential aide told reporters last week.

The two countries have also been at odds over the Korea-US Special Measures Agreement to determine Korea’s share of the cost for the upkeep of US troops stationed here. Due to the huge gap between the two, negotiations have not proceeded smoothly and they have been unable to set a date for the next round of talks.

The mounting diplomatic tension between Korea and the US has underlined the need for a summit between the leaders of the two countries at an early date. The latest visits to Washington by key Cheong Wa Dae officials suggested a possible pending summit. If realised, it would be the first time for the leaders to meet since New York in September 2019. However, another presidential aide denied Monday some media reports of a possible summit in March.

In addition, the US making improvements to a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile battery in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, has emerged as another problem that could bring about a backlash from China, which claims the facility is being used to spy on its military, and not just North Korea. ?

Moon is also facing a setback regarding diplomacy with China as his planned summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping could be postponed due to the 2019-nCoV (COVID-19) outbreak. Cheong Wa Dae had been pushing for a date in March or April, but it is likely that Xi’s first visit to Korea in six years could take place as late as June.

Relations with Japan have also not been going anywhere despite a Korea-Japan summit in December 2019.

The foreign ministers of Korea and Japan met February 15 during a security conference in Germany but parted without achieving any breakthrough on a number of thorny bilateral issues, such as a row over trade regulations and the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings on compensation for Korean victims of forced wartime labour during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule of the peninsula.

Concerns are rising that bilateral relations could quickly deteriorate once again if Korea decides to terminate the general Security of Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, a military intelligence sharing pact signed in 2016. Korea had decided to temporarily maintain the pact while negotiations were underway to settle their trade dispute.


Category: Korea

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