Country Reports

The end of 2018 and the first weeks of 2019 saw the South Korean media obsessed with North Korea and its diplomacy with the United States and China. Prospects for a second US-DPRK summit were a repeated concern throughout this time frame. Donald Trump’s summit with Moon Jae-in at the G20 summit was viewed from this angle. Hopes for opening a railroad connection between North and South Korea, boosted by a ground-breaking ceremony, rested on the outcome of such a summit. The New Year’s address by Kim Jong-un was assessed not only for its significance for denuclearization but also for its promise for the summit. Kim’s travel to Beijing for a fourth summit with Xi Jinping was seen as a prelude to the second summit with Trump. Progressives and conservatives differed in their evaluations of what was transpiring, even as direct diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang brought the summit closer. Conservatives were particularly concerned about troubled relations with Trump seen in burden-sharing talks and with Abe Shinzo, as ROK-Japan relations were in free fall. Perhaps, the biggest concern, however, was that Trump’s “America First” would lead him to reach a deal focused on removing the North’s ICBM threat to the United States with the possibility of withdrawing US forces from South Korea. While the impending summit raised hopes for many, it aroused anxiety that progressives vainly tried to dispel by appealing to Moon to play an active bridging role.

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