Ahead of a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump has warned China the US is ready to tackle North Korea by itself, causing concerns over an impending military action against the Kim Jong-un regime. But an esteemed South Korean national security expert believes Trump is not likely to use the military option against North Korea unilaterally and without South Korean support.
Sino-US.com has talked to Chung-in Moon, a distinguished political science professor at Yonsei University to get his perspective about how the summit between China and the US would help with the current situation on the Korean peninsula.
The US will take unilateral action to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea unless China increases pressure on the regime in Pyongyang, Donald Trump said in an exclusive interview with the Financial Times earlier this week.
Moon noted that the month of April is volatile, but he predicted that Trump is not likely to use military option against North Korea unilaterally. “If so, South Koreans will strongly oppose it,” he said, noting the US cannot achieve its political and military objectives without South Korea’s support. Thus, the likelihood of a war on the Korean peninsula is not very high.
Moon also admitted that given the ill-informed and impulsive nature of the Trump administration, the possibility of military action could not be completely ruled out.
Mr. Trump indicated he hopes to reach some kind of deal with China’s President Xi recently. “I have great respect for him. I have great respect for China. I would not be at all surprised if we did something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries and I hope so,” he told the Financial Times on Monday.
Moon predicted that during the meeting, Trump will be emphasizing the role of China in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, while President Xi would continue to urge Trump to engage with North Korea and resolve the current problem through dialogue and negotiation.
“The current South Korean government will be wanting China and the U.S. to put more pressure on North Korea, although the new government after the May 9 presidential election will be more likely to support the Chinese position,” he said.
At a news conference in Beijing last month, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged Pyongyang to suspend nuclear and missile programs and Washington and Seoul to suspend large-scale joint military exercises. The proposal was a bid to get all concerned parties back to talks.
Moon emphasized that he personally supports the Chinese proposal, and believes that dialogue and negotiation are the best way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
“North Korea has been expressing its position that if the US suspends its joint military exercise and training with South Korea, it is more than willing to freeze its nuclear and missile activities. Thus, such an exchange is worth trying. In that way, North Korea, South Korea, and the US can find some momentum to build mutual trust,” Moon said.
In his perspective, Seoul and Washington have been stubborn by saying that the joint military exercise and training is a sovereign matter and therefore, they are not willing to exchange it for North Korea’s freezing of nuclear and missile activities.
The 19th South Korean presidential election is scheduled to be held on 9 May 2017, after the impeachment and dismissal of incumbent Park Geun-hye. Under the current law, the election will be held in a single round on a first-past-the-post basis. In the meantime, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn succeeded Park as acting president and will finish the remainder of the 18th term. Acting president Hwang has indicated he will not run for a term in his own right.
When asked if the coming presidential election would bring changes to the current China-South Korea relations, Moon noted that if a progressive leader such as Moon Jae-in gets elected, he is most likely to suspend the deployment of THAAD, which would in turn normalize ties with China. But if a conservative candidate wins the election, he will stick to the THAAD deployment, and Beijing-Seoul ties will get worse.
“But all of it depends on how Xi and Trump resolve the difference on the issue of the THAAD deployment.”
Chung-in Moon is a professor of political science at Yonsei University and executive director of the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum and Chairman of Board of Trustees of the Asia Research Fund. He is currently serving as a member of Presidential Committee on Unification Preparation of the ROK.
(Opinions expressed in the article don't represent those of the Sino-US.com.)