Both North Korea and left-leaning supporters of South Korean President Moon Jae-in want him to regenerate economic ties broken by security tensions. But pleasing them will mean angering US President Donald Trump.

Kim Jong Un raises pressure on South Korea

On Tuesday, North Korea stated it was closing down communication links set up 2 yrs ago between Moon and Kim Jong Un, jeopardizing the South Korean leader’s 2017 campaign promise to go the heavily armed rivals toward a permanent peace. It’s bad timing for Moon: His ruling bloc secured a historic supermajority in National Assembly elections in April, boosting calls within his Democratic Party to mend ties with North Korea.

He doesn’t have much he can offer North Korea without prompting a blowup from the Trump administration, which has repeatedly rejected South Korea’s calls for sanctions relief,. That is the problem for Moon. The Usa has refused to relax United Nations penalties as well as other measures against the regime without greater commitments on arms reduction from Kim.

Woo Won-shik, a senior lawmaker along with a former Democratic Party floor leader, said Tuesday there was an “urgent need” to regenerate inter-Korean cooperation, arguing that failure to behave now could further isolate North Korea and convey about a return to the brinkmanship of three years ago. Kim earlier this coming year said he would soon debut a “new strategic weapon” — part of a bid to pressure Trump, who faces an election in November, back to the negotiating table.

“There a wide range of inter-Korean projects that can proceed without breaching the existing UN sanctions regime,” Woo said.

The most recent dust-up — triggered by South Korean activists who sent anti-Pyongyang messages in balloons over the border — comes in front of the 20th anniversary in the first meeting between top leaders of your divided Koreas. The summit beginning on June2000 and 13, was the biggest moment of then-President Kim Dae-jung’s reconciliation effort that resulted in stepped up trade and joint projects and helped create the South Korean leader the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although that “Sunshine Policy” helped cool tensions, it absolutely was also criticized for providing Pyongyang’s leaders with cash needed to formulate its nuclear weapons program. Smaller measures that may allow simply a trickle of foreign currency back in cash-starved North Korea also risk disappointing Kim Jong Moon’s and Un allies, who see their current strength in parliament as their best chance to secure lasting change.

North Korea’s relations with Moon haven’t been a similar since Trump walked out from a summit with Kim in February 2019 in Hanoi. The North Korean leader was pushing an idea backed by Seoul to give up his antiquated Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for sanctions relief — an offer that came nowhere close to the Trump administration’s demand for the “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

“It is feelings of betrayal and disappointment,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former analyst for that US government dedicated to North Korea. “Kim Jong Un feels South Korea has misled him into believing that Yongbyon facilities were likely to be enough for any cope with Trump in Hanoi.”

After that, North Korea has effectively ignored Moon’s requests for talks, shunned his offers for aid and test-launched new ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload for all elements of South Korea, where about 28,500 US military personnel are stationed.

North Korea didn’t answer South Korea’s calls made around the military line Tuesday for the first time ever since the inter-Korean communication link was restored in 2018, defense ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo told a briefing in Seoul. “Inter-Korean communication lines are a basic means for communication and should be kept in step with inter-Korean agreements,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a message to reporters.

A State Department spokesperson said america urges North Korea to return to diplomacy and cooperation. “The Usa has always supported progress in inter-Korean relations, so we are disappointed within the DPRK’s recent actions,” the spokesperson said, making reference to North Korea by its formal name.

Kim Jong Un may follow up his move to cut communications links with more missile tests, but making sure to avoid the wrath of Trump. The American president has brushed off shorter-range tests and credited their own diplomacy for stopping Kim from further tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles competent at striking the US mainland.

Nothing as serious as an ICBM test,” said Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-run think tank, though “Provocations like missile launches will follow. Cho added that North Korea also didn’t want to push Moon too far: “The South is well aware that ending the inter-Korean relations is not something which the North wants.”

Moon’s government said in late May mentioned that it wanted in order to again ease travel restrictions and inter-Korean exchanges. An identical attempt in 2018 led Trump to bluntly tell Seoul which it couldn’t a single thing regarding sanctions “without our approval.”

That would come with the enormous risk of cleaving Seoul from its alliance with Washington, said Soo Kim, a Rand Corp. policy analyst who specializes in Korean Peninsula issues, though members of the Moon administration have hinted that Seoul could act unilaterally to resuscitate inter-Korean cooperation.

Realistically, he remains constrained in the way of practical measures South Korea can take — if Seoul were to be conscious of and concerned about its relations with the US,” she said, even though “President Moon can promise the North Koreans the earth.

South Korean proposals blocked with the Trump administration included resuming operations at the joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Kaesong plus a separate resort at North Korea’s Mount Kumgang. Both were opened from the spirit from the Sunshine Policy and later on shut due to political turmoil.

While South Korea managed to win a UN sanctions waiver that resulted in the ceremonial sending of trains over the border about a couple of years ago, its humanitarian assistance has dried up under Trump’s maximum pressure campaign. South Korea has sent more $3 billion of aid since 1995, but little of it has come under the Moon government, which sent just $12 million in 2017 and 2018, government data shows.

‘Bent Over Backwards’

Trade between the two nations has dropped to virtually zero from $2.7 billion in 2015, or about 10% of North Korea’s economy. The regime took a further hit this current year if it sealed off its borders in January at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which slammed the brakes on other trade with countries like China.

According to Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Nuclear and Asia Policy at the International Crisis Group, kim Jong Un believes he doesn’t have much of anything to lose by increasing pressure on Moon.

“North Korea is raising the ante, looking to further punish, scare, and force Seoul to operate harder to fulfill Pyongyang’s demands,” Kim said. “Kim Jong Un feels he bent over backwards for Moon, but believes Seoul has not reciprocated, has betrayed North Korea and the Korean race, and has no influence over Washington to deliver on its promises.”