What's the Hurry in Getting Kim Jong-un to Visit Seoul?

      December 03, 2018 13:10

      President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Argentina last week and agreed that a visit to Seoul by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would "offer additional momentum" to establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. A high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said, "Kim has always lived up to his personal promises, and a visit to Seoul will take place, even if it does not happen this year."

      Kim spent about 12 hours on the South Korean side of the border truce village of Panmunjom during his summit with Moon in April of this year, but that was it. A visit to Seoul would be of tremendous historical significance since it would be the first proper visit by a North Korean leader. For Kim just to see the sparkling reality of present-day Seoul could trigger a degree of openness in the North, and of course frequent exchange visits by the leaders of the two Koreas will contribute to easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. But Kim will have to face protests from the public here if he comes while the North's nuclear threat looms overhead, and if he is touchy such a visit could end up making the situation worse. Seoul too could be seen as an appeaser in the international community or even condoning the North's nuclear armament.

      The only way to make sure the trip is a success is to achieve concrete progress in denuclearization. But at present North Korea is merely pretending. Pyongyang has rejected all proposed meetings to initiate the process and continues to bolster its nuclear weapons and missiles. At the same time, it is intent on publicity events like another summit with Trump. Kim probably hopes to sign another hollow joint statement like the one that came out of their first summit, while benefiting from more concessions. Trump is also addicted to photo ops and told reporters that a second summit could take place in January or February of next year. It is fortunate that Trump is so far continuing sanctions, but there is no telling how things will change. A repeat of the Singapore fiasco is not impossible.

      Kim should only visit when that could contribute significantly to the scrapping of the North's fissile materials, nuclear warheads and highly-enriched uranium. But there has to be an end to these publicity events and hollow joint statements of sunshine and apple pie. If Seoul keeps wasting time, the isolated state may end up becoming a nuclear power in plain sight. That is what happened with India and Pakistan. A crossroads will soon be reached that determines whether South Korea becomes a permanent hostage to North Korea's nukes.

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