South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who swept to power in May elections after promising to defuse tensions with North Korea through diplomatic, economic, and cultural engagement, arrives in Washington on Wednesday, June 28, for his first meetings with Donald Trump and his hawkish national-security team.
Many Koreans hope the summit will clear the way for Moon to move ahead with his efforts at peace-making, which he has modeled on the “Sunshine Policy” adopted by South Korea’s last two progressive presidents, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. According to a recent poll, nearly 80 percent of South Koreans support the renewal of dialogue with North Korea, which lies just 30 kilometers north of the capital, Seoul.
“We expect Moon will be able to ease tensions between North Korea and the United States, which will also lead to improvement of the relationship between the two Koreas,” Gayoon Baek, the international coordinator of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), an influential peace-and-justice organization based in Seoul, told The Nation. Her coalition, she added, is hoping that Moon will “open an unconditional dialogue with North Korea which could lead to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
In a sign of what’s to come, President Moon last weekend welcomed a delegation of North Korean athletes to the World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, South Korea. He used the occasion to propose that North and South Korea form a unified team to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, which will take place in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang. “Sports are a powerful tool to demolish walls and separation,” Moon declared.
But the new president, who spoke to The Nation in an exclusive interview two days before his election, is likely to face stiff resistance to some of his ideas in Washington at a particularly volatile time in US-Korean relations.
Two weeks ago, Moon drew Trump’s ire when he ordered his government to delay US deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, until it conducted a full environmental review. THAAD has been the subject of fierce protests from residents in the rural town of Soseong-ri, where the first batteries were set up with the blessing of former president Park Geun-hye, who was impeached in March and later arrested for corruption and abuse of power. On June 24, several thousand demonstrators chanting “No THAAD, No Trump” gathered in downtown Seoul and later circled the US Embassy to demand THAAD’s immediate withdrawal.