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Opinion | Can South Korea Save the Summit?

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — On Saturday night in Seoul, images of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea embracing North Korea’s Kim Jong-un lit up tens of thousands and thousands of smartphones. The Presidential Blue House introduced that Mr. Moon had simply met with Mr. Kim on the northern facet of the border — their second encounter in a month. At a press briefing Sunday morning, Mr. Moon defined that Pyongyang had made the request, by the use of the inter-Korean hotline, to talk “informally.”

It was once a bold recovery for Mr. Moon, who have been perceived as a sad intermediary since President Trump canceled a planned summit with North Korea closing week. That cancellation, made simply hours after Mr. Moon left the White House, was once gained as a countrywide and private insult. Kim Hong-kook, a journalist and professor at Kyonggi University, described it as a “Trumpian power play” that might weaken Mr. Moon.

South Koreans had been thus astonished by way of Saturday’s secret assembly, which the native press admiringly known as “shock theater.” Mr. Moon returned from the North with a message geared toward Washington: “There’s no question that Chairman Kim is willing to denuclearize. But if he does, he wants assurances that the United States will respect North Korea’s sovereignty,” he mentioned.

There are indicators that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim — now with open urging from the South — would possibly undergo with their June 12 summit in the end.

It is hard to overstate how unbelievable it’s for the Koreas to fulfill on an impromptu foundation, or how much this all weighs upon Mr. Moon. A former scholar activist and human-rights legal professional, he was once elected closing yr in a burst of idealism, following the mass “Candlelight Movement” that ousted the conservative President Park Geun-hye. Mr. Moon has since carried out one thing novel in Korean politics: He has attempted to go beyond the nation’s postwar ideological divide.

Like maximum on the South Korean left, Mr. Moon is important of the nation’s mega-conglomerates, and he aligns himself with the deficient and dealing elegance. He sympathizes with Korean sufferers of Japanese colonial army rule and Korea’s personal army dictatorships, as smartly.

But he’s extra Barack Obama than Bernie Sanders. He does no longer use anti-American rhetoric and is unwilling, or not able, to query the huge American army presence on the peninsula. He believes that Koreans must be at the helm of a Korean peace however has been fast to reward Mr. Trump and endorse talks that would come with all 3 international locations.

Mr. Moon started this paintings in February, at the Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Using the spirit and spectacle of the Games, he hooked up the two Koreas, and, in a initial means, North Korea and the United States. As Bridget Coggins, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, advised me, “It was schmaltzy and over the top, and not so significant, but somehow still with perfect optics.”

His political abilities and sublime carriage, alternatively, don’t ensure huge, endured beef up. “President Moon’s approach to leadership is to humble himself and give credit to his negotiating partners, for the sake of democracy and peace,” Kim Hong-kook, of Kyonggi University, defined. “But even if he were to succeed with negotiations between the South, North, and the United States, his political success could be undermined by resistance from Korean conservatives.”

In different phrases, even supposing Mr. Moon does the entirety proper, Ms. Park’s loyalists shall be out to get him. And as he works extra intently with Pyongyang, Mr. Moon dangers being brushed aside as anti-American, or “red.” Yet as a pace-setter dropped at energy via in style revolution, Mr. Moon should additionally satisfy his guarantees at house. His executive simply raised the minimal salary to the an identical of $7.00 in keeping with hour, and is cracking down on real-estate hypothesis and violations of tenants’ rights. A staggering corruption probe continues to implicate former presidents and robust businessmen, and the Constitutional Court would possibly quickly decriminalize abortion.

Mr. Moon must tempo this development in moderation. In South Korea, any more or less formidable social reform is inevitably observed as too with regards to communism, too with regards to North Korean-ness, an enemy situation. As the kid of refugees who fled the North all over the Korean War, Mr. Moon desires to dispel that worry for just right. Peace with North Korea is a prerequisite for development in the South, and all over the place else but even so.

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