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Current Issues and Policies

President Moon’s Trip to Europe: Assessment and Challenges
2018.10.24  Wednesday
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Hyun-ik Hong

President Moon’s Trip to Europe: Assessment and Challenges


October 24, 2018

Dr. Hong Hyun-ik

Director, Department of Diplomatic Strategy Studies, the Sejong Institute




Background of President Moon’s Visit

President Moon Jae-in traveled to Europe for the first time in 15 months. After proclaiming the restoration of peace on the Korean Peninsula through inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation in Berlin in July last year, President Moon transformed the environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula from one of tensions to one of peace through three inter-Korean summits. The two Koreas agreed on ‘peace-enhancing’ measures that de facto resemble a peace treaty — beyond the ‘end-of-war’ declaration —, laid the institutional foundation for normalization of bilateral relations, opening the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office, and developed the relations to prepare mutually beneficial economic cooperation based on the mutual confidence between the two leaders. President Moon also played an intermediary role in the DPRK-U.S. relations, which had been stalled after the first summit, to have both countries agree on a second bilateral summit. However, restoring peace between North Korea and the U.S. are at the crossroads as the two countries have their assertions running in parallel—over North Korea’s denuclearization and the security guarantee for North Korea.

The U.S. steadfastly claims that North Korea’s substantial measures for denuclearization should precede other corresponding measures from the U.S. and awaits North Korea’s submission of the list of nuclear arsenal and acceptance of verification. On the other hand, North Korea regards this claim as preposterous. The North Korean regime refuses to take additional steps toward denuclearization unilaterally given that it already halted nuclear tests and missile test-fires, closed its nuclear test site, dismantled the long-range missile engine test site, as well as returned 55 remains of U.S. soldiers and released three American detainees whereas the U.S. only suspended large-scale ROK-U.S. joint military exercises and declined the first step toward a peace treaty—to participate in the declaration to end the Korean War which de facto ended 65 years ago. Since it suffers from economic hardship due to the international sanctions, North Korea views that the international community and the U.S. should ease sanctions in accordance with their sincere measures. Hence, the denuclearization process came to a standstill at the moment since the U.S. only asserts North Korea’s substantial denuclearization first.


This confrontational state is also manifested within the UN Security Council. Assessing that North Korea’s denuclearization has proceeded at a certain degree, China and Russia also espouse corresponding ease of sanctions. Contrarily, the U.S. insisted that it cannot ease sanctions without North Korea’s substantial denuclearization and warned that it will impose secondary boycott (third-party boycott) on any country that violates the UN sanctions. Eventually, the permanent members of the UN Security Council have argued back and forth over this discrepancy. In this context, President Moon visited Europe this time to explicate South Korea’s initiative to France and the UK, the two remaining veto powers in the UN Security Council which might be the ‘casting votes’ in the debate. President Moon traveled across the Eurasian continent to raise the awareness of his initiative serving the role of a peace prompter so that North Korea and the U.S. could exchange denuclearization and security guarantee, fostering an international environment where the peace process on the Korean Peninsula is irreversible, and inducing the U.S. to be more flexible, beyond the adamant principlism, to expedite North Korea’s denuclearization

With this determination, President Moon visited Europe, starting from France and alighting at Italy, Vatican City, Belgium, and Denmark within 9 days. The paper delves into the key events in President Moon’s summit diplomacy during his visit to Europe, evaluates the achievements of his trip to Europe, and presents challenges for the South Korean government.


Key Events in President Moon’s Trip to Europe

 The main objectives of President Moon’s trip to Europe were to: ensure the irreversibility of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula, accelerate the peace process by encouraging North Korea and the U.S. to flexibly approach ‘end-of-war’ declaration and North Korea’s additional measures to denuclearization, and foster a favorable environment for the resumption of inter-Korean economic cooperation in a mutually beneficial manner. Accordingly, President Moon deemed France as the key country to persuadeFrance being a permanent member at the UN Security Council and a country leading the EU. Even though the UK is also a permanent member at the UN Security Council, its status has been strikingly waned in Europe due to ‘Brexit.’ Therefore, President Moon did not visit the UK, but met with Prime Minister Theresa May at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels. In such circumstances, President Moon chose France as the first destination for his state visit.

With a number of Korean flags hoisted along the famous Champs-Elysee, President Moon underlined the commonalities between the two countries; just as the 18th-century France proclaimed liberty, equality, and fraternity through the French Revolution, South Korea is consolidating democracy and building a fair society and a peaceful Korean Peninsula in the 21st century through the candle-light revolution. He tried to bring out empathy of the French people by emphasizing that South Koreans love peace and culture like the French. The South Korean president highlighted that North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un, whom the President met thrice, is committed to denuclearization and encouraged the international community to assist North Korea to accelerate the denuclearization process by affirming that Chairman Kim’s decision of denuclearization was correct — when North Korea’s denuclearization passes a point of no return. Expressing his support for President Moon’s policy on North Korea and the ongoing peace process on the Korean Peninsula, President Emmanuel Macron replied that the international community will be able to ease sanctions when North Korea’s denuclearization reaches a state of ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearization (CVID)’ as the UN Security Council resolution stipulates. France’s position were reiterated afterward, in Italy, at the ASEM meeting, and in Denmark.
After he focused discussions on bilateral cooperation to create a new growth engine at the ROK-Italy summit in Rome, President Moon visited the Holy See, the event that gathered most attention from the international community during President Moon’s visit to Europe. President Moon had a meeting with Pope Francis that spanned 55 minutes after attending the special ‘Mass for Peace on Korean Peninsula’ presided over by the Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state and the pope’s second-in-command. Pope Francis blessed and reaffirmed his support for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Listening to Chairman Kim’s invitation delivered by President Moon, he elucidated his intention to visit North Korea ‘The pope expressed his willingness. We have to wait for it [the invitation] to be formalised. ... disponibilita, available.’ ‘[S]trongly support[ing] the Korean Government's efforts for the ongoing peace process on the Korean Peninsula, Pope Francis said that President Moon should move forward without pause and need not to fear.’

Subsequently, he arrived at Brussels to attend the ASEM summit. He met British Prime Minister May twice, before the meeting and during the meeting when the discussions were suspended after Prime Minister’s remarks at the ASEM meeting. Moreover, President Moon illuminated the Korean government’s efforts to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and appealed for German support. While highly regarding President Moon’s determination and endeavor for peace on the Korean Peninsula, the two female leaders stressed that North Korea should take more firm measures toward CVID. The Chair statement of the ASEM summit on October included, “They welcomed recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, in particular the three inter-Korean Summits and the US-DPRK Summit. They supported the full and expeditious implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and Pyongyang Joint Declaration, as well as of the Singapore Joint Statement by the United States and DPRK, which confirm the common goal of complete denuclearization and the establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” Furthermore, the chair’s statement “called on the DPRK to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle all its nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), ballistic missiles and related programs and facilities in accordance with the relevant UNSC resolutions.” The leaders also urged North Korea to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and cooperate with IAEA monitoring system, along with contributing to the improvement of human rights situation.

In his final stop, Denmark, President Moon accentuated, “North Korea, which have not gone through manufacturing-focused growth, can be assisted in their efforts to apply a growth model that seeks to combine economic growth and sustainable development from the beginning” during his keynote speech at the Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G) Summit. In addition, he and Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen agreed to shore up bilateral economic cooperation in several domains, including science and technology, green growth, shipbuilding, and shipping industry.

Evaluation of President Moon’s Trip to Europe

Regarding the president’s visit to Europe, most South Korean media outlets consider the confirmation of Pope Francis’ intention to visit North Korea as the biggest achievement. On the contrary, they point out that the goal of fostering an environment to ease sanctions on North Korea was a failure. The author also shares the view that the diplomacy with the Holy See ended satisfactorily, leading to expectations of a considerable impact engendered by the papal visit to North Korea. Even on the North Korean nuclear issue, the Blue House also somewhat achieved the goal of creating the international community favorable toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula the Blue House did not aim to foster a climate friendly on easing sanctions against North Korea.

First, it should be noted that President Moon did not push for a stance opposing the U.S. administration, namely, easing sanctions against North Korea at this stage. President Moon intended to clarify the international community that it is necessary to have a policy propelling denuclearization easing sanctions to an appropriate degree when North Korea presents goodwill measures just as the international community piled up sanctions after North Korea’s provocations to speed up the denuclearization process. Moreover, he intended to illuminate that the most rational means to achieve the goal of peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is to assess North Korea’s behavior based on facts and respond in a flexible and corresponding manner. In other words, President Moon indicated that if the sanctions against North Korea is to deter North Korea’s additional provocations, to impede North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction, and to compel North Korea to abandon its WMD program, it seems appropriate to take corresponding measures such as ‘end-of-war’ declaration and easing of sanctions to accomplish the common goal of the parties concerned, rather than adhering to the sanctions regime and demanding more measures of denuclearization despite North Korea’s recent acts of goodwill.

Even though the European powers, including France, Britain, and Germany, did support the South Korean president’s efforts to restore peace on the Korean peninsula, the European leaders emphasized the CVID due to the following reasons. First, France and UK have continued to stress the UN’s authority as veto powers in the UNSC, and hence, they did not want to revoke the UNSC resolutions that demanded CVID from North Korea, all of a sudden. Second, they did not want to extend the fault line with the U.S. as it already seems long enough the Iran nuclear issue, NATO and defense budget-sharing issue, free trade, climate change, etc. Third, because the Iran nuclear issue is more significant to Europe than the North Korean nuclear issue, they would not want to leave a negative precedence for the resolution of the Iran nuclear issue. Fourth, as the European countries respect the European Commission’s decision on foreign and security policy, it was practically unviable to reverse the EC decision which has been stuck to the CVID prior to President Moon’s visit.

These factors attribute to the European countries’ adherence to the CVID during President Moon’s visit. Nevertheless, these countries individually and collectively expressed support for President Moon’s policy tenets on peace and cooperation with North Korea, the three inter-Korean summits and agreements, and the implementation of the DPRK-U.S. joint statement after the June 12 summit between North Korea and the U.S. They espoused the adequate economic cooperation and military agreement guaranteeing peace between the two Koreas and urged the U.S. to pour in efforts to induce North Korea’s denuclearization to a certain level. This is because the DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement on June 12 in Sentosa stipulated North Korea’s efforts toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula together with the normalization of the relations between North Korea and the U.S. and the establishment of the lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.

One Japanese media outlet, in particular, analyzed that South Korea and the EU did not adopt a joint statement after the summit due to the difference of views on the denuclearization process. That being said, it seems like an inaccurate account as South Korea avoided the joint statement because the EU wanted to include its position on the Iran issue against the U.S. and the Ukraine crisis against Russia, whereas South Korea hoped to maintain friendly relations with both the U.S. and Russia.

Finally, despite the European countries continued to insist on the CVID concept, President Moon argued for the need to ease sanctions against North Korea. This manifested to North Korea the South Korean government’s sincere effort in part of ‘national cooperation’ and provided the rationale to urge North Korea to take additional steps toward denuclearization.


Challenges Ahead

Confirming Pope’s intention to visit North Korea was itself a feat that promoted peace on the Korean Peninsula, raised South Korea’s national credibility, and enhanced the momentum for the peace process on the Korean Peninsula from a moral, rational, and international public perspective. In order for the papal visit to North Korea to actually take place, Seoul should take additional efforts. Conventionally, papal visit takes the form of pastoral visit - invited by the Catholic Church in the country rather than the government. Therefore, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, archbishop of Seoul and also apostolic administrator of the diocese of Pyongyang, should step forward to bring forth the cooperation between the Catholic Church of the two Koreas. In addition, papal visit to North Korea will probably require adequate justification - recognition of religious freedom, improvement of human rights situation, etc. Therefore, the South Korean government, to make papal visit to both Koreas happen in May when Pope Francis visits Japan and China, should seek to create a condition necessary for papal visit by encouraging North Korea to respect religious freedom and improve human rights conditions beforehand, and to advance human rights record and status of religious freedom after the papal visit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has been sparing time in the North Korean nuclear issue as President Trump hinted that the second summit with North Korea may be held next year even after he officially announced the summit, with the midterm elections dominating the headlines and the reduction of security threat from North Korea. While it seems to be part of the negotiation tactics, the high-level talks between Secretary Pompeo and the North Korean counterpart will determine the agenda and schedule for the next bilateral summit

At this juncture, it is desirable for the South Korean government to wisely adjust the pace of inter-Korean relations. It is sagacious to remain within the framework of the sanctions regime before the UNSC and the U.S. ease or lift the sanctions against North Korea. Still, it is a separate issue to persuade the U.S. and the international community to ease sanctions adequately to precipitate North Korea’s denuclearization once North Korea conduct substantial measures for denuclearization. Consequently, it is essential to continue persuading the international community with the argument of parallel development of denuclearization and easing of sanctions. That is, the U.S. could pressure North Korea to take substantial measures for denuclearization as a strict police whereas South Korea could convinces that North Korea could gain mutual benefits such as inter-Korean economic cooperation when it proceeds with denuclearization further. This ‘ROK-U.S. role-assignment’ could act as a driving force for North Korea’s denuclearization.

Lastly, since the Trump administration could return to the ultra-hardline stance against North Korea considering military action beyond diplomatic measures like last summer and autumn, the South Korean government should have preparatory plans to react. If South Korea adopts a hawkish stance in coordination with the U.S., the inter-Korean relations will freeze at once and South Korea will be devalued as U.S. line of defense and vanguard against North Korea. Hence, Seoul ought to strive to build confidence and sustain the possibility of economic cooperation to have the inter-Korean relation to remain intact irrespective of the re-emergence of U.S. hardline stance against North Korea.

Simultaneously, it is crucial to spare no efforts to convince the U.S. that peace on the Korean Peninsula, resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, development of North Korea, the economic development in Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia serves U.S. interests as well. This is to ensure the simultaneous advancement of the resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue, the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean economic cooperation, and the foundation of peaceful Korean unification.



This article is based on the author’s personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.


*Translator’s note: This is an unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.