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Let Koreans decide on Korea’s Future

By: The Dawn

The Korean soap-opera is getting spicier by the day. One day we’re on the brink of war and on the next we’re witnessing an unprecedented interview between Trump and Kim Jong Un (a similar thing happened with China: one day Trump speaks with Tsai Ing-wen to insult Xi Jinping and shortly after he rains praise on him and says he won’t talk to Tsai again without Xi’s permission). To put things into perspective, we need to remember that prior US administrations have already tried alternating confrontation and dialogue. And while dialogue has provided relatively good outcomes and valuable moments of peace (allowing families to reunite, investments, etc), the policy of sanctions has been a failure. The current strategy, if there is one, is highly likely to fail as well.

The current scenario is as disconcerting as it is unsettling. If we go beyond North Korea, the most powerful immediate reason that could explain Trump’s sudden and profound interest in increasing tensions with Pyongyang could be an attempt to influence South Korea’s elections, forcing Seoul to choose a candidate that will install the THAAD anti-missile system,which is an element that some consider to be of central importance in a policy of containment for China.

After the disastrous presidency of conservative Park Geun-hye, the big favorite in the South Korean election is Moon Jae-in, a candidate that wishes to dialogue with North Korea and rethink whether the anti-missile system is really necessary—since it’s being imposed in a context of serious political instability in Seoul. The exacerbation of tensions can tip the electorate towards confrontation. Or not. There have been clashes between the police and the citizens of Seongju who want to stop the installation of the armament.

On the other hand, it’s true that Kim Jong-Un has insisted on his defiance over the last years and months; and it is also true that the intense military maneuvers of the United States and its allies have even caused concern among many South Koreans, who feel uneasy about the lack of control by their government, which is always at the mercy of Washington’s unilateral choices. Pyongyang has responded with a lot of fanfare, but little effectiveness: failed missile tests, artillery drills, etc.

US Secretary of Sate Rex Tillerson declared, in his tour around the US, that he doesn’t want ‘a change of regime’ and that he wishes ‘a negotiated solution’. But military pressure increases as the consequence of the surprising characterization the North Korean regime as the biggest foreign policy challenge for the world power. After the simulation of dropping a nuclear bomb against North Korea’s main targets or the presence of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in exercises coordinated with Seoul, concern escalades worldwide.

The US’ justification for installing the THAAD system is the North Korean threat. Beijing and Moscow affirm that there are ulterior motives, because the range of the weapon reaches the North, North-East and some areas of East China, and Russia’s Eastern border. Both countries are analyzing military decisions in response to what they regard as an important provocation.

If Seoul and Pyongyang were to resume dialogue, the arguments used by the US would lose strength. Beijing is using pressure to prove its ability to manage the crisis and avoid an unfavorable outcome to its interests. If Kim Jong-Un decides to stray, he can potentially pay a high price.

The pressure exerted by the US can produce the opposite of what it intends, especially if the goal is guaranteeing the THAAD will be installed. Moon Jae-in, according to the polls, is doubling the chances of the opponent directly below him, Ahn Cheol-Soo, and almost triples the candidate of the party in power, Hong Joon-pyo.

Trump may threat and warn again, with his opportunistic tactics that make him lose credibility with the countries of the region, who are confused by this disconcerting use of tension. On the contrary, China’s proposal of a ‘dual suspension’ (of tests and military drills) can make way for reason. Will there be a turning point in the May 9 elections? The future of the Korean peninsula must be decided by Koreans.

Image credit: the Hankyoreh

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