Seoul (South Korea): South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday named Chung Eui-yong, a key player behind North Korean-US summits (denuclearization talks), as his new foreign minister only hours before the Joe Biden administration took office, reported Asia Times.
The strategically-timed appointment underlines South Korean hopes of persuading Biden to engage with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, opined Andrew Salmon, writing for Asia Times.
In March 2018, then-National Security Advisor Chung traveled from Pyongyang to Washington carrying the message that Kim’s willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
On March 9 that year, Chung met with Trump and senior advisors at the White House. Directly after the meeting Chung, flanked by two South Korean colleagues – Seoul’s chief spook and its ambassador to the US – briefed reporters on the White House lawn on a stunning breakthrough: President Trump would meet Kim Jong-un, reported Asia Times.
The historic summit took place in Singapore in June 2018 for the first time resulting in an aspirational document that provided a broad roadmap for bilateral relations, for the building of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and for the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. But it lacked details of commitments, timing, and tasks.
The second summit at Hanoi in Vietnam in February 2019 later failed after Trump walked out.
Since then, Pyongyang-Washington relations have gone nowhere, dashing the hopes of optimists as well as fortifying the cynics, said Salmon.
“Regarding the North Korea issue, South Korea probably thought the role was as a matchmaker [between Washington and Pyongyang],” Lim Eun-jung, a foreign policy expert at Kongju National University, told Asia Times.
“As a messenger, we did a great job – but so what?”
It remains to be seen whether Biden will follow Trump’s lead in meeting Kim, or more likely entrust negotiations to an expert team. Either way, the positions of both parties are relatively clear, said Salmon.
The broad question is whether the Biden administration would waive some sanctions in return for a limited denuclearization by Pyongyang.
The Trump administration had demanded full denuclearization before offering any rewards – a demand Kim was unwilling to meet, reported Asia Times.
Meanwhile, Seoul is keen to get a process started in order to build trust and momentum while enabling a thaw in deep-frozen inter-Korean engagement – all moves that may be behind Chung’s appointment.