South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday expressed his willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for talks once again and vowed to “continue efforts” to resume inter-Korean operations at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Kumgang tourism resort.
In a formal New Year’s Address, Moon admitted that the U.S.-DPRK talks are in a state of “impasse,” conveying his concerns about worsening inter-Korean relations and calling on Pyongyang to work with Seoul to find “realistic” ways to resume cooperation.
Emphasizing the importance of inter-Korean relations improving alongside U.S.-DPRK diplomacy, Moon said that steps to improve cooperation between the two were now “desperately needed.”
In a likely reference to growing tensions on the Korean peninsula, sparked in part by Kim Jong Un’s recent promise to step-up the development of new “strategic weapons,” the South Korean President also stressed that “the show of force and threats do not help anyone.”
He then reiterated his hopes that the North Korean leader would soon make a long-awaited visit to Seoul — previously promised by Kim Jong Un at a summit between the two in September 2018.
Relations between the two Koreas have since then entered a sustained stalemate, with Pyongyang blaming Seoul for the lack of progress in its talks with Washington and dismissing its attempts to serve as a mediator.
The South Korean President in his address Tuesday offered some suggestions on how the two might break that deadlock.
“International solutions are needed to maintain three principles for peace on the Korean peninsula: no war, mutual guarantee of security, and co-prosperity, but there are things the cooperation between the South and the North can achieve,” he said, pointing to five areas of potential inter-Korean cooperation in the new year.
Among these, Moon said, were the joint hosting of the 2032 Olympics and other sports-related exchanges, such as fielding a joint team for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
He also suggested stepping up efforts to connect road and railway along the inter-Korean border — a project begun in 2018 but which has seen scant progress since then.
The South Korean President, notably, tied these efforts to recent North Korean plans to expand its tourism industry, saying it “would become a big supporting ground for resuming the tourism between the South and the North, and for activating the North’s tourism.”
Tourism has in recent months served as a point of notable contention between the two Koreas, with Kim Jong Un having in October ordered officials to remove all the “unpleasant-looking” South Korean-owned facilities at the now-shuttered Mount Kumgang resort.
Moon in his speech this week bemoaned the lack of progress in inter-Korean relations in the past year, citing Pyongyang’s decision to “prioritize the North-U.S. talks.”
The renewed emphasis on potential areas in which the North and South could work together also appears to point to Seoul’s continued frustrations about the role that international sanctions have played in stymying cooperation between the two.
One expert said that Moon’s speech appeared to be “designed to keep the door open before it shuts completely,” while noting that Moon’s offers are either too insignificant or practically impossible in reality.
“The problem is these proposals are either small-bones or practically impossible due to the sanctions measures,” Daniel DePetris, a fellow at the DC-based Defense Priorities think tank, told NK News.
“Unless Washington is willing to support exceptions, the Kaesong and Kumgang initiatives aren’t going to occur… the U.S. position is a giant obstacle to any inter-Korean progress,” he continued. “Denuclearization is holding the inter-Korean track hostage.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham