As the UN Secretary General calls the coronavirus “the greatest test after the Second World War”, in South Korea similar terms have been common to describe the sobering primacy of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis; so psychologically traumatic to be widely considered as the most tragic national event since the Korean War (1950-53). The daunting memory of the AFC crisis, then surged as yardstick against which every successive economic downturn has been assessed.
The issue regarding North Korean defectors has always been a very divisive one. As accessing North Korea remains difficult, first-hand testimonies and reports from defectors have become a valuable source of information to prove the degree of inhumanity of the Pyongyang regime.
Few world leaders have faced the brunt of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy more than Moon Jae-in. Even fewer need U.S. cooperation for the cornerstone of their foreign policy agenda more than Moon and his plans for inter-Korean engagement. Despite several major challenges in the relationship over the past three years, there has also been new opportunities – thanks in no small part to Seoul’s efforts.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, South Korea will hold elections for the National Assembly on 15 April, merely two months after a sixty-one-year-old Korean woman known as “Patient 31” tested positive for the virus in the city of Daegu, South Korea’s epicenter of coronavirus cases, and triggered off the rapid transmission of the virus in the rest of country.
On 27 January a petition was filed to South Korea’s Blue House. It counted half a million signatories, and aimed at banishing visitors from China in an effort to escape the coronavirus epidemic. It was a different world back then. The coronavirus was not a pandemic yet, and Seoul had only four cases on record, all of them imported from China.
On 15 April, South Korea heads to the polls to elect the 300 members of the National Assembly, the country’s unicameral national legislature. This is a key moment for President Moon Jae-in, as he needs his Democratic Party to win a working majority to avoid becoming a lame duck in the second half of his term.
Following weeks of ups and downs surrounding the prospects for the first meeting ever between a sitting US president and the North Korean leader, the two countries officials laid the groundwork for it by engaging in "microwave diplomacy" as US journalist Barbara Demick called it. South Korean President Moon Jae-in, however, stood above the diplomatic roller coaster as the sole actor who keeps working on infusing coherence and stability into this ride.
Following a dangerous escalation of tensions last year, few could have envisaged the rapid turnaround in events witnessed so far amidst a flurry of high-level summit diplomacy. Although the complete denuclearization of North Korea remains a hypothetical scenario for now, its prospect would herald huge implications not only for inter-Korean relations, but also regional security dynamics in Northeast Asia.
Moon Jae-in will be remembered in history books as one of the three South Korean presidents who met with their North Korean counterpart – the other two being Kim Dae-jung (1998-2003) and Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008). Throughout his electoral campaign, Moon vowed to revive the engagement policy and restore economic cooperation with Pyongyang, after his predecessor – Park Geun-hye (2013-2017) – had severed all contacts with North Korea in 2016, as a result of the fourth nuclear test and various missile launches.
The presentation analysed the current state of North Korea’s nuclear programme assessing whether and to what extent it poses a credible and immediate threat to security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. Under the current circumstances, is a peaceful re–unification of the Korean Peninsula still an option and possibility in years ahead?
The discussion was held in English.
The event was organised in partnership with the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Milan.