Moon Jae-in stresses 'desperate need' to boost inter-Korea ties

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in his New Year's speech yesterday, urged cross-border efforts to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's long-planned trip to Seoul a reality.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in his New Year's speech yesterday, urged cross-border efforts to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's long-planned trip to Seoul a reality.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has stressed the "desperate need" to improve inter-Korea ties and cooperation, adding that he is prepared to "meet and talk constantly" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

During a televised New Year's speech yesterday, Mr Moon also urged cross-border efforts to make Mr Kim's long-planned trip to Seoul a reality.

Mr Kim had accepted Mr Moon's invitation to visit "at an early date" after welcoming the South Korean leader to Pyongyang in September 2018, but plans were shelved after nuclear talks with the United States broke down in Hanoi last February.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Mr Moon - who brokered the first summit between Mr Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018 - lamented the lack of progress in negotiations, but pledged to do his best to facilitate the resumption of US-North Korea dialogue.

"During a time of US-North Korea stalemate and growing concerns about a setback in inter-Korea ties, we are in desperate need of realistic solutions to improve inter-Korea cooperation," he said. "The momentum for US-North Korea talks must continue. Provocations and threats are not helpful for anyone."

Concern has grown about the bleak future of inter-Korea ties, after the issue was conspicuously omitted in Mr Kim's policy speech during a key party meeting last week. Cross-border ties have chilled alongside the US-North Korea nuclear deadlock, as Pyongyang accused Seoul of siding with Washington in maintaining sanctions on it and not implementing pacts made at previous Moon-Kim summits.

Pyongyang has also not responded to Seoul's repeated offers for dialogue. Last week, South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul stressed the need for the two sides to regain mutual trust. His ministry is also making plans to expand a bureau in charge of cross-border exchanges, seen as a bid to revive stalled ties.

Mr Moon yesterday underscored the importance of maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula and creating a virtuous circle of dialogue. "Peace on the Korean peninsula is not a matter of choice but a path we must take regardless of the difficulties we must overcome."

He also renewed his commitment to push to reopen two shuttered inter-Korea projects - Kaesong industrial complex and Mount Kumgang resort - and voiced hope about opportunities such as reconnecting inter-Korea roads and railway.

Noting how ties improved after the North participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics hosted by the South, Mr Moon also urged sports exchanges to continue, suggesting that the two sides can bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

He also suggested that the two Koreas can work together to develop peace zones along their demilitarised zone (DMZ) and get it listed as an intangible cultural heritage with Unesco.

"The DMZ is... a place of great value, symbolising reconciliation and peace between the two Koreas. The Unesco list is something we can start on immediately. I hope North Korea will respond favourably."

Mr Moon also noted that this year is the 20th anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration marking a historic first summit. The two sides agreed to resolve issues such as that of separated families.

"I hope the North and South can work together on a joint event to strengthen the will for peaceful reunification and prepare for an early visit by Chairman Kim Jong Un."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2020, with the headline 'Moon stresses 'desperate need' to boost inter-Korea ties'. Subscribe