‘Scam of the Century’: South Korea’s Conservatives Pan Trump-Kim Summit

S. Korea ruling party sweeps local elections after summit
AFP/Jung Yeon-je

South Korea’s conservatives, including members of the right-wing Liberty Korea Party, have expressed dismay at President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, decrying the lack of enforcement of any denuclearization agreement and substance in their joint declaration.

Hong Joon-pyo, the leader of the Liberty Korea Party, wrote on social media that South Korea’s security was “on the edge of a cliff” and later decried the summit as a “great failure.” The conservative outlet Hankook Ilbo, according to a translation by the Agence-France Presse (AFP), lamented the lack of language assuring “complete, verifiable, irreversible” denuclearization on Pyongyang’s part.

“In terms of the key issue … it may appear that the result failed to meet expectations,” an editorial in Hankook read, leaving the door open by noting that talks had “just begun.”

South Korea’s conservative Chosun Ilbo newspaper, in one of the most scathing condemnations of the meeting, said the summit “represents no progress and achieves nothing.”

“Over the last few months, Trump has made increasingly bombastic vows to scrap North Korea’s nuclear weapons as soon as possible, but now there is no deadline to be found anywhere, and instead Trump is talking about real estate development on North Korea’s coast,” the newspaper’s editorial board argued. “Trump gave North Korea a major gift even before it has taken any steps toward complete denuclearization. And in the joint agreement, it is Trump rather than the U.S. which is the party guaranteeing North Korea’s regime safety. This is diplomacy for the kindergarten.”

Chosun‘s editorial called the results of the meeting “the worst outcome for South Korea” and applauded Kim Jong-un’s “incredible achievement” of getting a U.S. president to meet with him without yielding any “major concessions.”

“A closer look at the joint agreement shows it was Kim who ended up taking home the prize. It is simply unbelievable that Trump flew all the way to Singapore to end up with the short end of the stick,” an outraged Chosun concludes.

In addition to its own voice, Chosun magnified that of skeptics who felt that the language in the Trump-Kim declaration was too soft to ensure that North Korea, which has serially broken international agreements, would adhere to it. Chosun has consistently throughout 2018 championed the voices of North Korean refugees and defectors who have demanded that world leaders keep the horrific human rights abuses of the Kim regime front and center in negotiations.

Several professors told Chosun Ilbo they believe the deal worsens the North Korean problem.

“With the latest agreement, we can kiss goodbye to the prospect of North Korean denuclearization,” Nam Sung-wook at Korea University told the newspaper. Park Won-gon of Handong Global University called the meeting the “scam of the century.”

The voices condemning the meeting are largely minority voices in South Korea, a fact punctuated Wednesday by regional elections that saw the ruling leftist Democratic Party sweep so definitively that Hong and other minority party leaders are expected to resign. Public sentiment about engaging Kim Jong-un has swung dramatically throughout 2018, first dropping significantly in January following the presence of a North Korean delegation at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, then picking up after Moon Jae-in met Kim personally. By late May, 78 percent of South Korean respondents told the Korea Research Center that they trusted Kim Jong-un to make a deal on denuclearization.

The deal that Kim and Trump agreed to in Singapore Tuesday means the end of “war games” between South Korea and the United States, which often simulate the invasion of North Korea. President Trump called the exercises “provocative” and told reporters they would end, a promise he made following his meeting with Kim. South Korean government officials tentatively said Tuesday that “we need to figure out President Trump’s accurate meaning and intention of this comment.”

On Wednesday, the South Korean presidential office issued a more concrete statement, saying, “We believe there is a need to consider various ways to further promote dialogue as long as serious discussions are being held between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and establishment of peace.”

In addition to a promise to work towards “complete” denuclearization, Kim promised in the joint declaration with Trump that he would repatriate the remains of Americans killed during the Korean War.

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