A controversy is brewing over recent remarks from Moon Chung-in, special presidential adviser for unification, foreign and security affairs. On June 16 (local time), he said at a Woodrow Wilson Center seminar in Washington D.C. that the South Korean government may discuss reducing the scale of the joint ROK-U.S. military drill with the U.S. government if North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities. He also mentioned that THAAD deployment in South Korea is not the whole of the ROK-U.S. alliance and it is no alliance if it breaks up for issues related to the deployment.
In addition, he expressed a negative view about Washington’s stance that any dialogue can be resumed only after North Korea's denuclearization. This could be regarded as the expression of a will not to be bound by the UN sanctions on the North led by the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and South Korea itself. At present, Washington is even mentioning a secondary boycott against third-country companies doing business with North Korea. Its leader Kim Jong-un has launched ballistic missiles on four different occasions since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office. Upon his election, the special presidential adviser insisted on resumption of Mt. Kumgang tourism and reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. He is one of those who deeply involved in the South Korean government’s North Korea and U.S. policies during the previous Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
Diplomatic experts in the U.S. pointed out that his remarks could lead to a discord between Seoul and Washington and the discord could take concrete shape at their summit talks scheduled for late this month. Some of the experts mentioned that his remarks might potentially cause the bad terms between the two countries during the Roh Moo-hyun administration to be repeated.
With the controversy brewing both at home and abroad, a high-ranking Blue House official told him on June 19 that his remarks were not helpful at all for the bilateral relations between the U.S. and South Korea. Nonetheless, the floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, the largest opposition, called for advisor Moon to retire, claiming that he exploded a bomb immediately before the summit meeting. “Even though the Blue House said the remarks were his personal opinion, he mentioned that what he said was the President’s thoughts,” the floor leader emphasized. The chairman of the policy committee of the same party echoed by saying, “It can be assumed that the adviser’s remarks are formulated ones implying the future direction of the Moon Jae-in government’s diplomatic and security policy, and the President should accept his resignation if the government’s official stance differs from his remarks.”
Concerns are rising over the future of the Seoul-Washington alliance implied by the remarks. Any conflict in the alliance has a significant impact on the economy of South Korea as well as its national security. The alliance has been the foundation of South Korea’s prosperity and the new left-wing government should not ruin it, that is, the economic and national security foundation that has been built over a period of as long as 70 years.
The special adviser’s remarks have boosted the importance of the upcoming summit meeting as an opportunity for not just policy coordination regarding THAAD deployment against threats from the North but also clarification of both governments’ stances on their bilateral alliance. Results of the talks will be closely watched.