Country Report: South Korea (November 2018)


The 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly

President Moon Jae-in’s New York itinerary was all about sharing the meeting results from the Pyongyang summit he had held with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: Moon met with President Donald Trump on September 24 to deliver Kim’s off-script messages; then he spoke in front of American experts and academics covering Korean affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations on September 25; his interview with Fox News, the first time any South Korean president has been interviewed by the network, was aired on the same day; and his second address at the UN General Assembly was given on September 27, promoting ending the Korean War and, eventually, peace on the Korean Peninsula. Moon’s meeting with Trump was also about signing the revised Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two states, the original of which Trump had long claimed to be “horrible” and “disastrous.” Moon spared time to meet with Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and hinted at disbanding the “comfort women” foundation, whose establishment was followed by an agreement between the two countries in 2015. Meanwhile, Kim’s much-anticipated debut at the UN General Assembly this year did not happen, but North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho gave a speech on September 29, calling for Washington to do its part to build trust, stating that, otherwise, Pyongyang will not denuclearize. 

Conservative editorials denounced Moon’s initiative to end the Korean War by invoking his remarks during the Fox News interview that an end-of-war declaration is a political statement and, therefore, can be taken back at any time. According to Chosun on September 27, Moon’s claim that the denuclearization process would be accelerated if we put an end to the Korean War “over the short haul” is hardly possible. In this regard, Chosun cited some parts of Moon’s claims in the interview: “Although sanctions were eased, we could simply strengthen them again if North Korea breaches its promise [to denuclearize]. …The United States has nothing to lose from conceding the end-of-war declaration.” However, neither such a declaration nor easing sanctions against Pyongyang can be a matter of “if not, never mind.” The editorial labeled Moon’s attempt as a political show and warned that if we let North Korea muddle through, it might follow the model taken by Pakistan, which resulted in that country becoming, practically speaking, a nuclear state.

Munhwa also worried about Moon’s UN speech and Fox News interview appealing for a declaration ending the Korean War. The editorial chimed in with a comment from Harry Harris, the US ambassador to South Korea: “Once the end of the war is declared, it would be irrevocable,” arguing that although such a declaration is a political statement, an agreement made among key states does carry binding force, and insisting that the same concern applies to sanctions. Munhwa asserted that, considering that both China and Russia are demanding lifting the sanctions, the notion of re-strengthening them once they have been loosened up would be severely challenging due to the veto power of these states. The editorial insisted that Moon had been Kim’s spokesperson throughout his visit to New York and was distorting the facts by calling North Korea’s recent measures—dismantling the Punggye-ri and the Tongchang-ri test sites – irreversible. It urged Moon to never forget that the North’s denuclearization moves are the result of sanctions, not a representation of Kim’s goodwill.

Donga focused on the relations between Seoul and Tokyo concerning the “comfort women” foundation and its implications for the ongoing efforts to denuclearize Pyongyang. The editorial on September 27 worried that a strong backlash from the Japanese government in response to the decision to disband the foundation could damage relations between the two states since Tokyo could consider the move either a violation (or virtually, an annulment of) the agreement on the “comfort women” issue. According to Donga, for this reason, Moon clarified that Seoul would neither scrap the agreement nor demand renegotiating it. However, the editorial argued, if Seoul-Tokyo relations deteriorate, cooperation among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington, needed to cope with North Korean nukes and missiles, could be damaged.

Progressive coverage thought highly of Moon’s diplomatic performance in New York. Kyunghyang on September 26 wrote that thanks to Moon’s summit with Trump, the US president hinted at a plan to meet with Kim again soon, confirming a second summit and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang ahead of that. The editorial quoted Trump’s speech: “We have engaged with North Korea to replace the specter of conflict with a bold and new push for peace.” It stressed the complete difference in tone compared to the speech he gave last year at the General Assembly, which involved “totally destroying” North Korea. Kyunghyang appreciated that the situation now has reversed from about a month ago, when there were difficulties such as the abrupt cancelation of Pompeo’s fourth visit to Pyongyang and the delay over the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office. According to the editorial, the breakthrough was made possible by virtue of continued “letter diplomacy” between Trump, Kim, and Moon, and Seoul’s endeavors to mediate and reignite the momentum between Washington and Pyongyang. The editorial admitted that Seoul’s bid for a declaration ending the Korean War as well as easing sanctions, opening an inter-Korean liaison office, providing humanitarian aid, and exchanging art troupes may seem premature, but both Kyunghyang and Hankyoreh claimed that if North Korea resolutely moves forward to denuclearization, the United States should reciprocate with magnanimous responses.

Kyunghyang and Hankyorehboth welcomed Moon’s decision to notify Abe about breaking up the “comfort women” foundation following an agreement which never should have been made in the first place; Kyunghyang acknowledged that scrubbing a mutually-signed, official, agreement may be burdensome, but it was inevitable as the resolution of the “comfort women” issue had to start from Japan explicitly admitting its liabilities and giving a sincere apology. 

Pompeo’s fourth trip to North Korea

Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang, which had been abruptly cancelled by Trump in August, took place on October 7 to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization process and a second US-DPRK summit. Pompeo stopped by Seoul afterward, met with Moon, and said “progress was made,” revealing that Kim had agreed to a second summit with Trump “as soon as possible.” As Pompeo’s third visit in July did not involve meeting with Kim, resulting in lukewarm appraisals, and his fourth visit had followed a three-month-long stalemate between Pyongyang and Washington, the trip was closely monitored by the Korean media. The amicable summit between Moon and Kim just two weeks prior to Pompeo’s visit was another element drawing attention to Pompeo’s trip since the wording of the Pyongyang Declaration most noticeably included the “permanent” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear facilities and international experts’ “observation” of the dismantlement.

Conservative editorials were not aligned regarding what to make of the trip. Chosun wrote on October 9 that although favorable comments were made by both the United States and the two Koreas on Pompeo’s fourth trip, the “progress” Pompeo claimed was not entirely clear, besides the State Department’s announcement on October 7 that Kim would invite outside inspectors to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site – a facility blown up unilaterally as Kim declared no more nuclear tests were needed – and Pompeo’s remarks that the missile engine test site in Tongchang-ri would also be subject to inspection. Chosun argued that North Korea had conducted six nuclear tests and already shifted from plutonium to uranium; therefore, shutting down the plutonium-producing facility in Yongbyon is not significant. The editorial hinted at a gleam of hope about the hours-long conversation Pompeo held with Kim, suggesting that they could have discussed the specifics of denuclearization which have not been disclosed. But Chosun reiterated that the most crucial measure taken against Pyongyang is sanctions, and they should be kept in place in order to guide North Korea onto the right path.

Munwha’s editorial on October 8 cited Pompeo’s tweet that he hopes to “ensure progress on inter-Korean relations is in lockstep with progress on denuclearization” posted after his meeting with Moon and Foreign Minister Kang. Munwha argued that the word “lockstep” is a stronger expression than “cooperation” or “working together” and, therefore, Pompeo’s word choice demands attention. It also insisted that the North’s recent decision to allow international experts to observe the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site is not really relevant to practical denuclearization measures and reminded Moon of the danger of rushing the inter-Korean relationship.

In contrast, Joongang wrote that although it is not yet clear what Pompeo talked about with Kim, it is obvious that Washington and Pyongyang made efforts to reach a compromise, which is itself valuable. The paper added that if the two are unable to produce a big package deal or gradual denuclearization process, but are able to come to a practical solution, then peace on the Korean Peninsula will not be far off. The editorial admitted that difficulties remain, citing Tokyo’s responses on October 6, when Pompeo was in Japan before flying to Pyongyang: “A declaration ending the Korean War is premature” and “North Korea should not only give up its nuclear weapons but also chemical and biological weapons.” According to Joongang, they are a negative influence on any deal between the United States and North Korea. The editorial, nonetheless, encouraged Moon to play the role of negotiator, as he has pledged that he will do everything he can to make the (second) US-DPRK summit successful.

Progressive coverage rejoiced at the news that Washington and Pyongyang agreed to hold a second summit. On October 7, Kyunghyangreferred to Pompeo’s comments in which he talked about the North’s denuclearization measures, the US government’s observer role, and its corresponding measures in response to Kim’s offers; he also said that the two countries agreed to form a work team as soon as possible to discuss Pyongyang’s denuclearization process and the US-DPRK summit schedule. According to Kyunghyang, US mention of “corresponding measures” is a significant step forward considering its previously exclusive focus on denuclearization and its pessimistic view of a declaration ending the Korean War. The editorial added that Pompeo appreciated Seoul’s mediating role, which indicates that his visit was successful, and wrote that Moon’s visit to Pyongyang in September had derived from North Korea’s stance that “it is willing to take additional measures such as permanently dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear facility as the United States takes corresponding measures” and was a critical turning point in moving the discussion forward.

Moon’s Europe tour

Moon went to Europe to visit France, Italy, the Vatican, Belgium, and Denmark to seek EU member states’ support for his peace initiatives with North Korea. His meetings kicked off with the French president Emmanuel Macron on November 15 and continued with the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte on November 17 and Pope Francis the next day; on October 19, Moon attended the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Belgium and held talks with leaders from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Thailand; and finally on October 20, he met with the queen and prime minister of Denmark. The meeting that grabbed the most attention was with Pope Francis, as Moon had reportedly suggested that Kim invite the pontiff to come to North Korea and Kim had welcomed the idea. Known to be Catholic himself, Moon participated in a special mass for peace on the Korean Peninsula at St. Peter’s Basilica, after which he came under the spotlight for giving a well-received 10-minute speech.

Moon’s summit with Macron. Conservative editorials paid attention to Macron’s response to Moon’s remarks on promoting denuclearization by easing sanctions against North Korea, as France is one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Segye wrote on October 16 that Moon’s claim that “when North Korea’s denuclearization process reaches an irreversible stage, UN-imposed sanctions should be eased in order to accelerate the process” and his request for France’s cooperation in this regard was his first-ever attempt at demanding sanctions relief from a leader of a specific nation. Macron, however, responded that “the sanctions should be kept in place until Pyongyang demonstrates its practical commitment to engage in dismantling its nuclear and ballistic programs” and called for the North’s realization of CVID (complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement). This, according to Segye, was a clear rejection by the French president. The editorial insisted that it was premature for Moon to suggest easing sanctions, even if conditional, while Pyongyang declines to report its nuclear weapons and facilities in the midst of mounting concerns within the international community that inter-Korean relations are moving forward too fast despite the slow denuclearization process. Joongang wrote on October 17 that Moon’s argument – lifting sanctions when Pyongyang’s denuclearization process enters into an irreversible stage –appears reasonable; however, the dismantlement of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Tongchang-ri missile launching site are measures aimed at stopping the development of future nuclear weapons, but unlikely to address ones that have already been developed.

In contrast, Kyunghyang released an editorial titled “Sanctions against North Korea is a tool for denuclearization not a goal” and supported Moon’s “gradual sanctions relief.” It insisted that Moon’s suggestion is not, by any means, immoderate because Moon offered to reward the North not at the beginning of its denuclearization process, but when it arrives at a stage where the international community indisputably acknowledges its progress. Kyunghyang admitted the main difficulty Moon faces: Washington’s unchanged stance on sanctions due to concern about their impact on denuclearization. Yet, the editorial insisted that such a unilateral idea stems from being ignorant about Pyongyang; in fact, North Korea experts warn of a "sanctions paradox," in which maintaining sanctions would lower the possibility of Pyongyang giving up its nuclear program. Moreover, North Korea has developed its economy under the limitations of prolonged sanctions while ensuring the survival of its regime.

Moon at the ASEM summit. Chosunblasted Moon’s attempt to persuade the world leaders at the ASEM summit in an editorial entitled, “President Moon’s trip to Europe, diplomatic mishap in reality” on October 22. It wrote that the 51 heads of the European and Asian countries, including Moon, urged that “North Korea must dismantle its entire nuclear weapons program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way” in a statement adopted by the chair. The leaders, according to the editorial, demanded that it deliver CVID of its weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including biochemical weapons and ballistic missiles. However, Chosun posited that Seoul, at some point, replaced the term CVID, which Pyongyang has never accepted, with “complete denuclearization,” taking out the key part of CVID, verification. It criticized Moon for reversing—by asking for the easing of sanctions—the ASEM statement, which promised to fully carry out UN sanctions against North Korea while pressing Pyongyang to rejoin the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It added that, in the process, Moon revealed his ignorance of how the global community perceives the matter. Munhwa, gave Moon an “F” on his venture to win international sympathy in pursuit of “promoting denuclearization by easing sanctions against Pyongyang” while in Europe. There was no joint statement signed between South Korea and the EU states; according to the editorial, Moon rather caused a situation in which CVID – a term that even the United States has stopped using due to North Korea’s resistance – now stands out.  

On the contrary, Hankyoreh appreciated Moon on October 21 for publicizing the easing of sanctions on North Korea on the global stage and labeled it one of his achievements from the Europe tour. It reiterated Moon’s condition—“when Pyongyang’s denuclearization process enters into an irreversible stage”—and wrote that it was meaningful to put the sanctions relief, rather than the issue of a declaration ending the Korean War, on the international discussion table as a corresponding measure to the North’s denuclearization. Hankyoreh admitted that European leaders showed reservations about immediately rewarding North Korea with sanctions relief and claimed Seoul needs to invest more time and effort on the matter. The editorial hinted that if immediate sanctions relief is hard to achieve, pushing for Mount Geumgang tours and Kaeseong Industrial Complex operations to be recognized as exceptions from the sanctions could be a way to proceed.

Moon’s meeting with the Pope. Segye pointed out Kim Jong-un’s hidden motives and criticized him for trying to take advantage of a potential visit to Pyongyang by the pope. It wrote on October 19 that Pope Francis practically accepted Kim’s offer to visit, saying, “If I receive an official invitation from North Korea, I will definitely answer and I can go.” Segye condemned Pyongyang, given that the North Korean nuclear program is the most critical threat to the world and peace is one of the greatest values the Catholic Church upholds, asserting that Kim’s unwillingness to hand over a list of his country’s nuclear weapons and facilities, but inviting the pope, the symbol of peace, is nonsense. Segye warned Kim against using a papal visit for propaganda purposes and demanded real improvement in North Korea’s record on human rights, including freedom of religion, an indispensable element of peace on the Korean Peninsula, together with denuclearization. 

Both Joongang and Donga took a softer tone, looking forward to what a potential papal visit to North Korea could possibly bring. Joongang wrote on October 19 that the pope’s positive response may lead to an actual visit, an unprecedented event, lowering tensions and bringing the possibility of peace on the Korean Peninsula closer. The editorial raised hopes that the visit would be a ray of light for the North Korean people, who have been oppressed for roughly 70 years, opening doors to improved human rights and freedom. Donga also showed its excitement, writing that the pope’s intention to visit the communist state would spiritually support the road to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. Referencing the pontiff’s contribution to normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba in 2014 and his longtime public support for reconciliation between the two Koreas, the editorial urged the Kim regime to guarantee religious freedom for its people so as to make the visit happen.

Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang both greatly appreciated the pope’s potential decision to visit Pyongyang and asserted that such a visit would be a steppingstone for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Hankyoreh on October 18 welcomed Pope Francis’ response to Moon: “I strongly support the Korean government’s effort to promote a peace process on the Korean Peninsula.” The editorial insisted that the visit would be the most apparent sign that North Korea has turned into a member of the international community, and the meeting would be symbolic in transforming North Korea into a normal state. Hankyoreh added that the visit would also serve as an opportunity to let the world know that North Korea is willing to denuclearize. Kyunghyangweighed in, claiming that a visit by the pope carries different symbolic significance compared to visits made by other foreign leaders; if Kim shows his willingness to denuclearize to Pope Francis, he would be able to win global trust. The editorial insisted that there are no reasons for the pope not to support North Korea’s commitment to give up its nuclear program, and nothing could be a more powerful driving force for denuclearization than the Catholic leader’s advocacy. Kyunghyang also wrote that the pope’s visit would trigger changes inside the communist state concerning human rights improvement and democratization of the nation, which Kim must have decided to accept.

Moon confirms Pyongyang declaration and military agreement without National Assembly’s consent

On October 23, while presiding over a cabinet meeting, Moon confirmed the Pyongyang Declaration and the military agreement made in September without the consent of the National Assembly. Given that the Panmunjom Declaration signed in April did have to go through the Assembly’s ratification process, such an inconsistency upset conservative papers. A stronger backlash followed, owing to the response from the Blue House to a claim by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party that the president’s unilateral ratification violated article 60 of the Constitution. The Blue House spokesperson argued, “Under the South Korean legal system, North Korea is not a state and therefore, neither the Pyongyang Declaration nor the military agreement between the two Koreas can be treaties.” To silence the growing dispute over his remarks, the spokesperson said the next day, “Inter-Korean relations are not considered relations between two different states under the Constitution nor national security law, whereas at the United Nations or under international law, North Korea is acknowledged as a state” and added, “How to identify North Korea, in terms of legality, isn’t simple.” 

A majority of conservative editorials condemned not only Moon’s decision to confirm the Pyongyang Declaration along with the military agreement, but also the defensive argument the Blue House delivered. Donga wrote on October 24 that April’s Panmunjom Declaration gave birth to the Pyongyang Declaration; with that said, it claimed peremptory ratification by the executive branch of the Pyongyang Declaration while the mother Panmunjom Declaration is still far from reaching a consensus within the National Assembly is inconsistent. The editorial added, according to the Constitution and the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act enacted in 2005, the president has the right to ratify a treaty, but if the content of the treaty involves financially burdening the people or is relevant to national security assurances, parliamentary approval is needed. Donga denounced Moon’s move on account of the fact that 1) the Pyongyang Declaration is a follow-on agreement to the Panmunjom deal, which requires heavy financing, and 2) enforcing compliance with the military agreement carries important security details and demands equally heavy financing. Discontent from conservative publications lingered since the Blue House spokesperson and one of the senior presidential secretaries defended the president’s ratification with the argument that “North Korea is not a state.” Segye criticized the Blue House’s handling of the dispute on October 26 by citing the president’s 2011 autobiography Destiny, in which he wrote, “Agreements made between the leaders of two Koreas, in legal terms, are likely treaties signed between two states.” The editorial argued that this was being debunked as the Blue House contradicted itself. 

Conversely, progressive editorials demanded that the opposition parties come to terms with the Panmunjom agreement and insisted that such a move would bring peace closer. While admitting that Moon put the cart before the horse—he should have waited until the National Assembly approved the Panmunjom agreement—Hankyoreh argued on October 23 that an expeditious ratification process on the Pyongyang Declaration and the military agreement was inevitable in order to improve inter-Korean relations and ease military tensions. The editorial added that once the ratified agreements are put into effect, they would have a positive impact on the US-DPRK nuclear negotiations. Hankyoreh closed with the argument that the National Assembly should not hold the Panmunjom agreement hostage and urged it to move forward for better relations between the two Koreas and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Kyunghyang concurred on the same day, invoking past deals made between Seoul and Pyongyang without the National Assembly’s consent – such as the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration and the 2007 South-North Summit Declaration – and the Ministry of Government Legislation’s conclusion that the two agreements, ratified by Moon, do not require parliamentary approval.

NYT report “NK’s Great Deception” based on CSIS study and Pyongyang’s new weapons test

On November 12, The New York Times published, “In North Korea, Missile Bases Suggest a Great Deception,” claiming that Pyongyang has been developing ballistic missiles at 16 hidden bases. The article quoted a study done by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which came out after Pompeo’s meeting with his North Korean counterpart in New York scheduled on November 8 was abruptly cancelled. Trump tweeted the next day that the report was “inaccurate,” “nothing new,” and “fake news.” The Blue House was in sync with Trump’s “nothing new” comment, but went further with an argument somewhat defending the North, claiming, “North Korea never promised to dismantle its missile bases” and “North Korea was never obliged by any agreement or negotiation to get rid of its missile bases and therefore, the expression, ‘deception’ used in the article seems inappropriate.” Victor Cha of CSIS unhesitatingly criticized the Blue House’s defense on Twitter: “How can the ROK defend NK’s undisclosed operational missile bases?” Amid the growing controversy, North Korea’s state-run media, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), revealed on November 16 that Pyongyang has successfully tested a new high-tech weapon without defining what it is.

Conservative papers in Seoul quickly picked up the CSIS study and NYT report to blame not only Moon’s failing diplomacy but also the Blue House putting up a shield for the North. Chosun on November 14 emphasized a part of the report that revealed a missile base known as Sakkanmol which is one of the closest to South Korea and merely 135 kilometers away from the capital. The editorial condemned the explanation of the Blue House that “Sakkanmol base’s missiles are short-range or Scud missiles that are irrelevant to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM),” as if the only missiles that are dangerous are the ones targeting the American people and not South Koreans. Joongang also wrote that despite Kim’s declaration to shut down the Tongchang-ri missile engine test site and its missile launch facility related to ICBM development, short- and mid-range missile launch facilities, which can be used to fire missiles to attack US-ROK military facilities and cities in the South, remain undiminished. Joongang claimed that the CSIS disclosed new information about the North Korean missile bases, already known by both US and ROK military authorities in detail, because American public opinion toward North Korea might have vacillated. The CSIS study shows that the American people are raising their alert level toward Pyongyang, which is not keeping its promise to denuclearize, and toward the Trump administration, which is doing nothing but watching the North. Meanwhile, Donga wrote on November 17, considering the KCNA’s report that Pyongyang’s new weapon is tactical and not strategic, it is presumed to be a new type of long-range artillery or short-range tactical missile. The editorial pointed out that Pyongyang is restraining itself from provoking the United States with strategic weapons targeting Washington, but flaunting its weapons targeting Seoul in order to threaten both Washington, which would not yield an inch to ease sanctions, and Seoul, which is hesitating over inter-Korean economic cooperation.

The progressive coverage, contrariwise, questioned the legitimacy of the CSIS study and NYT report. Kyunghyang editorialized on November 13 that the CSIS study is full of errors: 1) the Sakkanmol base is where North Korea launched its scud missile in March 2016, has been under military surveillance, and is not newly found; 2) CSIS argued that the base uses not only short-range missiles but also mid-range ones on the basis of private satellite data, but according to a military satellite, which allows for more detailed observations, the base only uses short-range missiles; 3) short-range missiles and their bases are not subject to being declared or dismantled; and 4) the image used in the study taken on March 29 was before the US-DPRK summit; therefore, claiming that North Korea acceded to the nuclear negotiations but continued developing its nuclear and long-range missiles in their violation is an exaggeration. Kyunghyang also argued, given that there is little trust between Washington and Pyongyang, it makes no sense to demand that only North Korea disarm itself.

Moon meets with Pence. and Xi while attending the ASEAN meetings and APEC summit

Moon attended the 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings, including the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Singapore and the 26th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea from November 13 to 18. His main goal was to explain his administration’s New Southern Policy, a plan to develop South Korea’s relations with ASEAN countries and India to the level of its relations with four neighboring powers, the United States, China, Japan, and Russia. Moon met with President Vladimir Putin on November 14, Vice President Mike Pence on the next day, and President Xi Jinping on November 17; all, reportedly, involved a discussion about North Korea’s denuclearization. In the meantime, John Bolton, the US national security adviser, in Singapore for ASEAN, told reporters on November 13, “President Trump is prepared to have a second summit with Kim Jong-un.”

Conservative editorials concentrated on Moon’s meeting with Pence and the importance of the alliance. Joongang wrote on November 16 that given the recent discrepancies in opinions between Seoul and Washington, this meeting in Singapore highlighting the significance of the alliance was timely. The editorial, however, noted that North Korean nuclear threats have been detected unabated through a number of channels and invoked a response from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) during the National Assembly hearing held on November 14, which presumed that North Korea has continued miniaturizing its nuclear warheads. Joongang argued that what Pence said during his meeting with Moon – the United States will continue to seek CVID and although there have been great achievements, much remains undone – deserves attention; this is because even though it was said with euphemistic language, Pence did refute Moon’s “sanctions relief first for denuclearization.” Donga wrote on November 19 that Pence allowed some flexibility as he said, “The United States won’t ask North Korea for a full list of its nuclear and missile facilities prior to the second US-DPRK summit.” However, since Washington and Pyongyang are still in conflict regarding sanctions, the only way to resolve this is to put the denuclearization process back on track by having the two leaders negotiate the matter directly, and this is what was called for by both Moon and Xi.

Progressive editorials were attuned to Washington’s lowered barrier for the second summit and promoted Seoul playing a bigger role. Kyunghyang wrote that the US government has eagerly signaled its willingness to hold the second summit, quoting Pence on November 15, “The United States won’t require Pyongyang to provide its nuclear and missile list before the second summit,” and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, “We are negotiating leader to leader… the President and the Secretary [Pompeo] both negotiating with Chairman Kim personally.” The editorial argued that such remarks show that the United States is willing to take the bull by the horns so as to defeat the growing skepticism about North Korea after the US midterm elections and make the second summit a success. It added that the two sides agree that they should meet, but narrowing down the discrepancies surrounding “denuclearization and the corresponding measures” is challenging and, therefore, Moon should step in again. Pence asked Moon to communicate and talk more closely with North Korea for this reason, as the situation requires South Korea’s mediation efforts. Hankyoreh wrote on November 18 that Moon and Xi promised to cooperate closely for the success of the US-DPRK summit, which is meaningful at this critical juncture. The editorial also highlighted what the two leaders said in chorus, “the second US-DPRK summit and Kim’s return visit to Seoul will mark a watershed in solving the problem on the Korean Peninsula,” claiming that this is an accurate diagnosis of the reality. These words pressed Kim to visit as early as possible, along with Xi’s plan shared with Moon that he will visit both Seoul and Pyongyang next year.

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