From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt, a bit of good news and praise for the president on the Korean peninsula…
A Glimmer of Hope on the Korean Peninsula?
Look, no one’s saying the potential threat of war on the Korean Peninsula is gone. But for the first time in a while, things look a little better than they did the day before.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday for helping to spark the first inter-Korean talks in more than two years, and warned that Pyongyang would face stronger sanctions if provocations continued.
Seoul and Pyongyang agreed at Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, to resolve all problems between them through dialogue and also to revive military consultations so that accidental conflict could be averted.
“I think President Trump deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks, I want to show my gratitude,” Moon told reporters at his New Year’s news conference. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.”
Perhaps Moon is just attempting to ensure Trump gets some of the credit, or to warm U.S.-South Korean relations. Or maybe those international sanctions are starting to squeeze North Korea’s economy in ways that the regime can’t afford to ignore:
…exports may have declined by “as much as 30 percent last year”, according to Byung-Yeon Kim, author of the book “Unveiling the North Korean Economy”.
In particular, exports to China – North Korea’s biggest trading partner and the reason many believe Pyongyang is able to survive – are down as much as 35 percent.
That’s a third of the regime’s economic growth wiped out. And Professor Kim’s figures don’t take into account the latest sanctions that were passed in December which targets, amongst other things, visas for North Koreans working overseas.
Remittances from those workers are the second biggest foreign exchange earner for Pyongyang. And some predict that new sanctions could cut North Korea’s hard currency earnings by up to 80 percent.
Everyone expects North Korea to be on its best behavior during the Olympics.
S. Nathan Park, writing in the Washington Post, notes that South Korean President Moon is probably as good an ally in Seoul as the U.S. could hope for at a time like this:
Moon is emblematic of this newer generation. Moon served his military duty as a special forces soldier defending the demilitarized zone. His own family comes from the North, which they escaped during the Korean War on a U.S. ship. Moon his little reason to romanticize the regime in Pyongyang and has consistently stated his support the alliance with the United States. Despite considerable controversy at home and intense economic and political pressure from China, he allowed the Americans to deploy a missile-defense system to protect U.S. troops in South Korea. He has even managed to get along with President Trump, who has criticized South Korea for not paying enough for the stationing of U.S. forces. (In a recent phone call before the inter-Korean talks, Trump said: “America supports President Moon 100 percent.”)
It’s worth noting that South Korea remained a steadfast ally of the United States even at the peak of anti-Americanism in 2002. Today, Trump is personally even more unpopular in South Korea than Bush was, but there are simply no large anti-U.S. protests in South Korea — not even when Trump personally visited Seoul. Nor is there any indication that South Korean liberals are displeased with Moon’s pro-U.S. stance. A recent opinion poll puts his approval rating at a remarkable 77.2 percent.
Finally, there was that surprising leak yesterday that the U.S. is “quietly discussing” a limited military strike in North Korea. Considering the likelihood that Pyongyang would retaliate (and perhaps escalate by using chemical or nuclear weapons), one wonders whether this is a real discussion or a strategic leak, a verbal warning shot that lets Pyongyang know that they’ve got a good incentive to calm things down, too.