No breakthrough for inter     DATE: 2024-07-15 17:05:30

President Moon Jae-in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on a wooden bridge during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjeom in this <strong></strong>April 27, 2018, photo. Yonhap
President Moon Jae-in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on a wooden bridge during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjeom in this April 27, 2018, photo. Yonhap

By Jung Da-min

Three years have passed since the April 27 Panmunjeom inter-Korean Declaration was made at the first summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but inter-Korean relations have since made little progress, due to uncertainty over the domestic and international situations of both countries, North Korea watchers said Monday.

Since the failure of the Hanoi summit between former U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in February 2019, not only U.S.-North Korea relations, but also inter-Korean relations, have been stalemated. Since then, North Korea has conducted at least 21 missile tests, mostly short range ones.

The Moon government has continued its diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table, but to no avail, with the North Korean side calling for sanctions waivers for the resumption of inter-Korean projects, such as the Gaesong Industrial Complex and the Mount Geumgang tourism program. The South cannot unilaterally push ahead with these projects without consent from the international community.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic situation has impaired the domestic situations of both Koreas since early 2020, with the North closing its borders to prevent the virus from spreading there. Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated in the meantime, with the North blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaesong in June 2020 to protest anti-Pyongyang leaflets being sent across the border from the South by North Korea rights activists, many of whom are defectors from the North.

The inter-Korean liaison office in Gaesong had been set up in September 2018 as an outcome of the Panmunjeom Declaration.

Jeong Eum-mee, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification's North Korea Research Division, said that two factors are responsible for the stalemate in the Moon government's North Korea policy.

"First of all, North Korea has no intention to receive any support from the South or proceed with any exchanges during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it has put a priority on quarantining," Jeong said. "Secondly, there are political uncertainties in the South concerning the next presidential election, which is slated for March next year, as well as in the U.S., as it has yet to announce the outline of its North Korea policy."

Jeong said that the North has repeatedly delivered its message to the South that it would not resume any exchanges.

Jeong said that if there is any room left for the government in terms of its North Korea policy, it should adjust its policy direction to the current situation, considering Pyongyang's needs.

"North Korea is now focused on the education, health and information sectors, and the South could present an agenda for such sectors, in order to engage the North in talks," Jeong said.

Moon Sung-mook, a senior researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said that the North Korean leader does not have any wish to improve inter-Korean relations if they threaten the very stability of the Kim regime.

"As the so-called Korean Peninsula peace process is not a realistic goal, the Moon administration should focus more on the area of defense, as diplomacy is about pursuing the national interest," senior researcher Moon Sung-mook said. "As the nuclear and missiles threats from the North are becoming more visible, South Korea should ensure its security by strengthening its alliance with the United States."

Jung Dae-jin, a professor at Ajou University's Institute of Unification said that, as there is only one year left before Moon's presidential term ends, the administration should focus on keeping consistent in its North Korea policy. It should not break the current momentum, at the same time as preventing any further escalation of tensions.

"The Moon administration should send the consistent message that it wants talks and peace with the North both domestically and internationally until the next administration takes power," Jung said.