S. Korean Conservative Leader Pessimistic About US-North Korea Summit

The conservative leader of South Korea’s main opposition party on Thursday spoke out against the upcoming U.S.–North Korea summit.  He also voiced concern that political considerations are driving U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to compromise joint security for more false denuclearization promises from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I am rather pessimistic about whether this negotiation will work out well or not. The only means for North Korea to maintain its regime is its nuclear program. The moment that North Korea gives up its nuclear program, and the moment it opens up to reform, the Kim Jong Un regime will collapse,” said Hong Joon-pyo, the chairman of the Liberty Korea Party.

On June 12, Trump and Kim will meet in Singapore to try to reach an agreement to end the North’s threatening nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic incentives and security guarantees that could include a formal peace treaty to replace the armistice that has been enforced since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

​Easing US pressure

Many South Korean conservatives had voiced strong support for Trump’s “maximum pressure” polices to force Pyongyang to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons through tough international sanctions in place that ban 90 percent of the country’s trade, and the threat of military action.

But they have been troubled by recent statements coming from the Trump administration indicating the United States may be willing to soften its demands for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of the North’s nuclear program before offering any sanctions relief.

Hong is worried that Trump may seek a deal that would quickly end the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program that directly threatens the U.S., and leave the regional nuclear threat to be resolved later.

Trump seems overly intent to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough, Hong said, to shift the media focus away from the ongoing special prosecutor investigation he is facing over Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election. Trump has strongly denied any allegations of collision with Moscow and has called the investigation a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

Trump’s Republican Party also faces highly contested midterm congressional elections in November. In the last year, the opposition Democratic Party has won a number of special elections in regions that Trump won in 2016.

“There is a midterm election coming up in the United States and the domestic political situation also seems to be complicated. And there are some reports saying that this is one possible way to reach an agreement toward a safe direction at least for the U.S.,” Hong said.

South Korean elections

South Korea will also hold local elections just days after the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

The South Korean opposition leader accused the progressive Moon government of appeasing the repressive Kim government to bolster popular support for his party.

“Considering the pro-North Korea posture of the current South Korean government, it is highly likely that North Korea will welcome such temporary stop-gap policies,” he said.

However Hong’s hawkish views that there be no concessions until the North’s nuclear, missile and chemical weapons program are eliminated and significant human rights progress is made, has not resonated with the South Korean public, according to recent polls.

President Moon continues to enjoy a public approval rating of more than 70 percent, in large measure for his successful diplomatic outreach to North Korea that resulted in two inter-Korean summits in the last month, agreements to engage in joint military talks and family reunions, and in facilitating the U.S.-North Korea summit.

His ruling liberal Democratic Party is expected to make gains in the upcoming elections for mayors, governors and a few off-year National Assembly seats. A recent Realmeter poll showed the Democratic Party with a 52 percent approval rating and the Liberty Korea Party with 18 percent support.

The conservative movement in South Korea is still recovering from the impeachment last year of President Park Geun-hye, who was later convicted on bribery charges connected to a multimillion-dollar influence peddling scandal involving some of the leading Korean conglomerates. Park left office with an approval rating of less than 10 percent.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.