Moon Jae-in’s 2018 achievement list: Highlights from a diplomatic year

Written by By Sue Smith, CNN South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump met in November in the United States for the North American Leaders’ Summit. The summit achieved strong progress on…

Moon Jae-in's 2018 achievement list: Highlights from a diplomatic year

Written by By Sue Smith, CNN

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump met in November in the United States for the North American Leaders’ Summit.

The summit achieved strong progress on the North Korea issue, but it also reflected lingering differences between the two sides on trade, with Moon opposing the U.S. trade war.

When they spoke to the press together, Trump’s tense relationship with Moon’s administration was clear: the US president refused to sign an agreement with the South Korean president that had been finalized beforehand, and demanded that both countries renegotiate trade agreements.

And Moon’s accomplishments at the summit are only scratching the surface of the achievements he’s made.

Mixed message

Moon’s role as a bridge between the US and North Korea gives him the perfect platform to increase Seoul’s influence in the international community.

“Moon is clearly the deal maker and deal maker leader that the US needs. He got a two way deal with the North Koreans that would never have been possible otherwise, with a positive impact on the chances of the peace process succeeding and weakening US-China friction,” said Jang Yeong-ju, professor at Dongguk University in Seoul.

But that’s not all. In his time in office, Moon has also helped persuade other governments to set up parallel commissions to address various issues, to help protect their interests. These commissions are also known as “Pandora Papers,” after a previous Moon policy.

“The South Korean peninsula has been under economic blockade for more than 50 years, so we have been pushing at the door for the international community to take action to end the impasse and finally provide economic support to the people of the peninsula. One of the most promising achievements is the recent UN Group of Experts’ (UNGIE) report, which laid the groundwork for the work of an international monitoring body to be established.”

Perhaps the most significant of Moon’s achievements in 2018 were the “statement of intent” for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the US, and the establishment of parallel international bodies to monitor the nuclear and economic situation in the North Korean peninsula, as a follow-up to the UN Group of Experts report on the DPRK.

UNGIE

The UNGIE report is a joint effort by US and South Korean teams, that have been analyzing the situation on the Korean peninsula.

The report said: “The international community has the collective responsibility to stop these activities before they could further destabilize the Korean Peninsula and may begin to affect the lives of ordinary Korean people.”

With this report in hand, Moon announced his intention to establish a nuclear monitoring body, to ensure that the DPRK does not conduct nuclear testing and fully disclose its nuclear program. As a result, Moon in November became the first South Korean president to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, on the Korean peninsula.

The treaty, which aims to strengthen inter-Korean relations and pursue peace, is expected to be signed by South Korea and the US at the close of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February.

Indirect influence

When Moon announced the creation of the armistice commission in 2015, it was more indirect than obvious, and admitted that the aims of the commission could be difficult to explain to the South Korean public.

According to Sang-il Lee, professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, “The armistice commission is aiming at ensuring and promoting peace in the Korean peninsula. This type of commission is generally seen by the public in South Korea as nothing different from the previous UNGIE report.”

However, the purpose of the commission’s investigation is more important than the institution itself. Its probe into the UNGIE report of the DPRK is part of Moon’s softer approach, aimed at building common ground between South Korea and the US for an end to the joint military drills with the North.

Still, the new commission has created some challenges, according to Kim Jin-soo, a professor at Seoul National University. He explained that its independent role will be crucial.

“They should be mandated to handle the job independently, to have more transparency and we should understand them closely,” Kim Jin-soo said.

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