Leading presidential contender lacks Plan B, C
Moon Jae-in, a liberal frontrunner in the presidential election scheduled for May, disclosed views that would mark a great departure from nine years of conservative hard line policy, if he becomes president.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Moon, former chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), said Korea should learn to say no to the United States, Korea’s ally that has served as bulwark against the North; recognize the North’s young dictator; reopen the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, an inter-Korean joint venture; and reconsider the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, a U.S. missile interceptor.
As a successor to President Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, liberal leaders who propagated the sunshine policy of engaging the North, Moon would have every right to reset the course of the nation’s most important diplomacy _ toward the North _ when and if he is elected.
What he has so far revealed sounds little changed from the two late presidents, whose successive terms, 10 years in total, ended in 2008.
Moon has not said how he would reopen dialogue with the North.
The North is a de facto nuclear state with a sizable arsenal and wants to be recognized as such, a likely precondition to resume talks. It is an open question whether Moon would do this to start inter-Korean talks. So far, Seoul and Washington have refused to do so.
Moon has not talked about the aim of nuclear talks with the North: standstill, reversal or dismantle.
If the first is taken as a goal, Moon has yet to reveal what incentives he would offer and how to verify whether the North is keeping its promise. For the second and third, Seoul should offer far more than the first.
If Moon objects to THAAD deployment, what protection can he offer the people?
After all, the North can hurl hundreds of missiles toward the South and we feel naked and vulnerable to that threat, leading to the decision to bring in the American anti-missile system.
Moon’s suggestion of reversing the deployment also lacks a sense of realism.
THAAD is aimed at protecting Koreans and American GIs. If it is pulled out, it would violate the key rule of engagement for the U.S. that provides the best defenses available for its soldiers. That would certainly affect the alliance.
If China replaces U.S. as Korea’s key ally, Moon may be logical. Beijing may be Korea’s biggest trading partner, but it is not even a democracy and it does not respect human rights and freedom of speech as we do. China has made this clear during the ongoing THAAD spat, making an existential threat to Korea.
Becoming a regional “balancer” between the U.S. and China was the dream of Moon’s friend and mentor, President Roh, but it did not work then and there is no guarantee that it will work this time. Moon should present a better plan to rally the nation behind his call.