In this segment of By Any means Necessary, Sean Blackmon and Jacqueline Luqman are joined by Gregory Elich to discuss the upcoming general elections in South Korea and the geopolitical contours that affect the race and US involvement in the peninsula, how South Korea’s proximity to North Korea and China impacts the stakes of the election and US interest in the eventual winner, and current president Moon Jae-In’s myopic focus on a peace declaration that would have little effect on the potential for peace on the Korean peninsula.
South Koreans go to the polls on March 9 to elect a new president, who will assume office two months later. At a time when U.S.-North Korean relations are at an impasse, and the Biden administration is building an aggressive anti-China alliance, much may rest on the outcome.
United Nations and U.S. sanctions targeting North Korea prohibit almost all trade and transactions with the nation, resulting in collective punishment of the entire population. Ostensibly, humanitarian aid is exempt from sanctions. Still, many humanitarian groups have been compelled to curtail or halt assistance to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – the official name for North Korea). U.S. officials regularly contact officials abroad, urging them to crack down on businesses, organizations, and individuals having any dealings with North Korea.
One such group is the New Zealand-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Society (NZ DPRK Society), which over the years, has provided aid and engaged in educational exchanges with North Korea. Among its projects, it has provided farm equipment, diesel fuel, flood relief, and fertilizer to the NZ Friendship Farm, supplementary food to the SeungHo Home for the Elderly, and multiple shipments of medical supplies. These are only a few examples of the group’s many activities.
This year, the NZ DPRK Society fell afoul of the U.S.-driven effort to strangle the North Korean economy when it provided the DPRK with personal protective equipment to help it deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Peter Wilson, the Society’s secretary, shared his experiences with me.
Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul, South Korea yesterday for talks on stalled nuclear diplomacy hours after North Korea said it had “no intention of sitting face to face with the United States.” President Trump had said earlier in the day that he was willing to have yet another summit with the North Korean leader. But Biegun reiterated the U.S. position that North Korea must give up all of its nuclear weapons, something North Korea has always maintained it would not do unilaterally without concurrent sanctions relief.
Although widely derided by the Washington Establishment as an empty photo opportunity, the recent meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un at Panmunjom produced an agreement to resume working-level talks in the near future. According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, the two leaders discussed stumbling blocks in improving relations and easing tensions, and agreed to work towards a “breakthrough in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and in the bilateral relations.”
President Trump’s hasty decision to pull the plug on the Hanoi Summit ahead of schedule came as a stunning surprise. The feeling of disappointment in those who were hoping for success contrasted with the sense of relief in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, which remains steadfastly opposed to any improvement in relations.
An announcement by the North that it has developed an unspecified new “tactical weapon” is causing controversy. The hawkish CSIS think tank said this week that they had discovered 13 supposedly secret North Korean missile development sites. President Trump, however, said that he’s known about the sites for a long time. Is the Intelligence Community trying to sabotage the Korean peace talks?
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un on September 18-20 culminated in the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration, which marked a significant advance towards peace and heralded a welcome warming in relations. Since that time, however, contradictions within the Trump administration’s North Korea policy threaten to forestall further progress and test the patience of its South Korean ally.