Trump-Kim summit game squeezes South Korea’s president

South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House, April 2019
Of all parties to the denuclearization talks, South Korean President Moon Jae-in may have the weakest cards to play and the most precarious domestic position (source: dpa)
  • Korea is still East Asia’s key hot spot, with diplomatic commitments in constant flux
  • For domestic reasons, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un need another summit
  • South Korea’s leader has the weakest cards and the most urgent need for progress

In the triangle with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and United States President Donald Trump, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in looks like the most predictable player. He is also the weakest of the three, which lengthens the odds that his sensible and pragmatic policies will work.

Nobody can deny that the Korean Peninsula has been and continues to be the main hot spot in East Asia. The border between the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south is the most dangerous remnant of the Cold War. Bearing in mind the constant threat of a sudden outbreak, one would wish the main actors to be rational and their policies predictable. However, this is not the case with either Mr. Kim or Mr. Trump. In North Korea, the political system is by its very nature opaque. Like his father Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un has mastered the art of the surprise.

Commitments and preferences can change overnight. Policymakers in Seoul and other Asian capitals have gotten used to this, since the Hermit Kingdom has been behaving this way for more than seven decades.

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