Denuclearizing North Korea will be test for Biden-Moon relations

Is it possible to achieve results through dialogue while maintaining sanctions pressure for the complete denuclearization of North Korea? It can be said that the close cooperation between the United States and South Korea is being tested.

U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have held a summit. Moon is the second foreign leader to be welcomed at the White House since Biden took office, after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. This is a sign of the importance Biden attaches to his strategy in Asia amid the intensifying confrontation with China.

Unlike previous U.S. President Donald Trump, who downplayed alliances, Biden’s clear stance of placing the Japan-U.S. and U.S.-South Korea alliances at the center of his Asian diplomacy will contribute to regional stability.

The two leaders confirmed their policy of seeking dialogue with North Korea with the aim of “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” They also agreed to call on the international community to ensure the implementation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolutions to sanction Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs.

Last month, the Biden administration outlined a new North Korea policy. It is prepared to take a pragmatic, step-by-step approach, offering incentives, such as an easing of sanctions, in response to moves toward denuclearization.

In light of the fact that Trump’s “big bang” approach to a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not work, Biden will emphasize denuclearization talks among working-level officials.

Kim’s regime has, however, publicly stated its intention to strengthen its nuclear capability, so it is unclear how it will react. It is possible that he will reject the nuclear talks and take outrageous actions, such as conducting a nuclear test or launching a missile.

Washington and Seoul must not neglect preparations in case of military provocations. Shouldn’t they consider resuming large-scale joint exercises in order to maintain deterrence?

Moon has less than a year left in his term. Instead of rushing to improve relations with North Korea, he should first deepen trilateral security cooperation with Japan and the United States.

In terms of policy toward China, South Korea’s stance of trying to align its policy with the United States is notable.

With Beijing in mind, the joint statement by Biden and Moon expressed opposition to “all activities that threaten the rules-based international order” and stressed “maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The statement also mentioned the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Regarding moves to break away from dependence on China in the supply chain for semiconductors and other important goods as well, Seoul announced a ¥4 trillion investment package in the United States by South Korean companies, indicating its position to cooperate with Washington.

South Korea is highly dependent on China in terms of trade, but in terms of security, the alliance with the United States is essential. It must maintain its diplomacy centered around relations with the United States.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 25, 2021.