Categorized | Inter-Korean, slider, South Korea

The Inherent Limitation of a Pro-Engagement Posture

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On September 22, a 47-year-old fisheries official was shot dead by North Korean troops along the Yellow Sea coast.
  • The Korean Coast Guard later reported that the victim was likely looking to defect to North Korea.
  • The administration was criticized for its “soft” response as 68.6% believe that the government is mishandling the case.

Implications: A South Korean government that approaches North Korea with an explicitly pro-engagement posture runs the risk of facing political pushback when Pyongyang engages in provocative behavior. Although his pro-engagement policy helped bolster public confidence in the government during rapprochement with Pyongyang in 2018, Moon Jae-in now faces a more skeptical public in the face of a more hostile North Korea. Reflecting these shifting views, the government’s efforts to explain the situation have been interpreted by some as “defending” North Korea’s position.

Context: Despite these risks, South Korean administrations that take office without an explicitly pro-engagement policy have not succeeded in making headway with the North Korean regime. For instance, President Park Geun-hye approached engagement with Pyongyang with a much softer tone than her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, focusing on “mutually binding expectations based on global norms.” Even though Seoul during this time maintained a moderate position that was neither too hawkish or dovish, Pyongyang remained visibly skeptical and no major diplomacy breakthroughs took place.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Sophie Joo, Sonia Kim, and Chris Lee.

Picture from the flickr account of the Republic of Korea

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