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Majority of South Koreans favor North Korea ‘friendship’

More than 60 percent of South Koreans believe President Moon should sit down with Kim Jong Un at a summit designed to improve bilateral relations and ease the military tensions that have dogged the region for many years. A poll conducted on February 15 showed that 61.5 percent of South Korean adults nationwide were in favor of Moon travelling to Pyongyang for face-to-face talks with Kim, while 31.2 percent disagreed and expressed the belief that additional pressure – such as international sanctions - is the best way to force North Korea to moderate its behavior. The poll was conducted half-way through the Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, and the results underline the surge in friendly feelings that ordinary South Koreans have felt towards their neighbors on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone. Read more: Olympics chief Thomas Bach set to visit North Korea And that is a direct result of a combination of sense of fear and feeling of hope among many in the South. 'Bloody nose' attack The fear for them is that US President Donald Trump intends to carry out a "bloody nose" military strike against targets in the North in an attempt to demonstrate Washington's capabilities and its willingness to use force. And the other element of the equation is hope that North Korea is genuinely interested in building a more collaborative relationship with the South and that peace is finally possible, 65 years after the end of the Korean War. "Those numbers in this poll, and others, come as no surprise to me at all," said Ahn Yin-hay, a professor of international relations at Korea University in Seoul. "There have been lots of reports of Washington planning a 'bloody nose' attack on a missile site or a nuclear facility in the North, and that makes people very worried because Pyongyang can be expected to retaliate and it is likely to target South Korea," she told DW. "South Koreans believe that a strategy of talking to the North is better than a violent approach that threatens our safety," she said. "Talking has a far better likelihood of achieving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula." Moon is widely seen as having worked extremely hard since he took over the government in Seoul in May last year to build bridges with the North. Those approaches – including offers of talks to reduce the military threat levels, a front-line military hotline and reunions for families separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953 - were initially ignored or rebuffed by Pyongyang. The gradual ratcheting up of international sanctions in the closing months of 2017, however, appear to have convinced Kim Jong Un to be more amenable to discussions, while the timing and location of the Winter Olympic Games have provided the perfect opportunity for détente to flourish. Yet Moon is clearly in a difficult position. He may want to push ahead with a summit that may turn out to be a turning point in the bilateral relationship. It may, however, equally be a ploy by the North Korean regime to drive a wedge between Seoul and its most important security partner, Washington, as part of Pyongyang's broader long-term aim of a united Korean Peninsula controlled by the government that presently occupies the North. Read more: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un invites South Korean president to summit Historic handshake marks Korean unity at Olympic Opening Ceremony Alienating the US Moon must be careful not to alienate the US – and its present unpredictable leader – as he still needs Washington's security guarantees. Underlining the tightrope that he is walking, Moon said on Saturday that a decision on a summit with Kim is too early. "There are many expectations, but I believe they might be a little too anxious," Moon told reporters when asked about the possibility of a summit. He reiterated that there needs to be progress on the question of North Korea getting rid of its nuclear weapons before real progress can be made. There are, however, a number of areas in which progress can take place and would arguably serve as confidence-building measures for the two sides, believes Ahn. These include discussions between military leaders at the border on easing tensions and reunions of families divided by the DMZ. "If progress can be made in these areas, then I am optimistic that we could see a summit in the late summer months," she said, suggesting a meeting that would coincide with the anniversary of the June 2000 summit between Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae-jung, the then South Korean leader. Another symbolic date that could appeal to both sides might be August 15, the Liberation Day national holiday marking the end of Imperial Japan's colonial rule over the peninsula. Yet others are less positive about the outlook on the peninsula. "Of course South Koreans are saying they want the summit to happen; they do not want a war and the North Korean 'charm offensive' during the Olympics has been a huge success," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs. Read more: US wants North Korea to give up nuclear weapons as pre-condition of talks Kim Jong Un: North Korea has completed nuclear program, US will never attack Difficult situation "But Moon is in a very difficult position, stuck between the US, North Korea and even China as a major player in this situation," he said. "I do not see how Moon can square the South's relationship with the US with this meeting," he said. "And I believe that the issue of the joint US-South Korean military exercises could be the flash point." At the request of Pyongyang, the US and South Korea agreed to postpone military annual exercises that were due to be held during the Winter Olympics. North Korea is now demanding that the manoeuvers be cancelled entirely, warning that failure to do so would reverse all the positive developments in the bilateral relationship of recent weeks. Moon has a choice; one option is to bow to the North Korean demand and risk alienating the US entirely – and possibly encouraging Washington to take a unilateral approach to dealing with North Korea, which could involve the much-feared "bloody nose" approach. Alternatively, he can reschedule the exercises and face the wrath of Pyongyang. "I would say that everything hinges on these exercises and the situation is extremely dangerous at the moment," Okumura said. "A decision must be made in the next few weeks and, whatever that decision is, the ramifications will be felt this spring." Read more: Dialogue with North Korea must continue, says German President Steinmeier

More than 60 percent of South Koreans believe President Moon should sit down with Kim Jong Un at a summit designed to improve bilateral relations and ease the military tensions that have dogged the region for many years. A poll conducted on February 15 showed that 61.5 percent of South Korean adults nationwide were in favor of Moon travelling to ... Read More »

156-year-old map may reignite Japan-South Korea island dispute

South Korea occupies the rocky and remote islands of Dokdo, but Japan calls them Takeshima and claims they are an integral part of its territory. And as neither side is backing down, relations continue to deteriorate. The discovery of a map drawn in 1861 may reignite a simmering territorial row between South Korea and Japan, and further damage bilateral relations that are already strained. The map was drawn by Korean cartographer and geologist Kim Jeong-ho and clearly marks the rocky islets that are known in South Korea today as Dokdo as being part of the kingdom of Korea. The map covers the Korean Peninsula and has Dokdo close to the island of Ulleung, off the east coast. Japan, however, has long disputed South Korean control over the inhospitable islands and insists they are an integral part of the Japanese archipelago. Tokyo says the islands should be known as Takeshima. Ironically, the map was in the collection of a Japanese national and had previously been in a library in Pyongyang. Serial numbers on the map show the date that it was obtained - August 30, 1932, when Japan was the colonial master of the peninsula - but little is known about its whereabouts in the intervening years. Hailed as more proof The discovery has been reported in South Korean media and hailed as yet another piece of evidence that Dokdo - which have a detachment of armed police permanently stationed on them - are sovereign Korean territory. "All Koreans know that the islands are Korean and we are committed to protecting them," said Song Young-chae, a professor in the Center for Global Creation and Collaboration at Seoul's Sangmyung University. "There have been songs written about Dokdo and they have appeared on postage stamps, so they are constantly in our minds as being Korean," he told DW. "The Japanese claims to the islands have no basis in historic fact and we find it stunning that they continue to claim the islands as theirs," he added. According to Seoul's position on Dokdo, they only came under the control of Tokyo when Imperial Japan invaded the Korean Peninsula in 1910. The islands were then ceded to Shimane Prefecture, the closest part of mainland Japan, until Japan was defeated in World War II and surrendered in August 1945. The fine print of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 now becomes important in the dispute. South Korea says that early drafts of the agreement included Dokdo among the thousands of islands and parcels of territory that had been seized by Japan and were to be returned to their historic owners across Asia. By the sixth draft of the agreement, however, all the place names had become so cumbersome that for the sake of convenience only three major Korean islands were identified by name. And Seoul believes if the islands were being returned to their historic owners, then they are clearly Korean. Seeking settlement Supporting South Korea's claims are ancient descriptions of the islands being part of the Silla Dynasty in 512 AD as well as maps and documents - Korean, Japanese and those made by Western explorers - amassed by the Seoul-based Northeast Asian History Foundation. Arguably the most persuasive piece of evidence is a map produced as late as 1877 by Japan's Department of the Interior and which is held at the National Archives in Tokyo. The document shows that in a reply to a letter from the department to Japan's Great Council of State in March of that year, the council made it clear that Japan had no relationship with Dokdo. But in Tokyo, the government now brushes aside Seoul's claims and insists that the islands are an inherent part of Japanese territory, based entirely on historical facts and international law. An extensive section on the website of the Japanese foreign ministry states, "The Republic of Korea has been occupying Takeshima with no basis in international law. Any measures the Republic of Korea takes regarding Takeshima based on such illegal occupation have no legal justification. "Japan will continue to seek the settlement of the dispute over territorial sovereignty over Takeshima on the basis of international law in a calm and peaceful manner," it adds. To support its claim, Japan has proposed that the dispute be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and that both sides be given the chance to stake their claims to the islands. Seoul has so far refused. Demands that South Korea return the islands to Japanese control are most vociferous in Shimane Prefecture, which is 211 kilometers to the south. Takeshima Day On February 22 every year, the prefecture marks Takeshima Day with a series of events that invariably attract nationalist politicians from Tokyo and, equally inevitably, attract criticism from South Korea. Hiromichi Moteki, acting chairman of the rightwing Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact, says the growing animosity toward Japan demonstrated by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is "not a normal human attitude." "I am not an expert on maps and I believe that careful analysis needs to be carried out to determine the accuracy of this newly discovered map," he said, but added that there has been a concerted campaign against Japan by the South Korean leadership that threatens to further harm the bilateral relationship. One of the biggest areas of contention is the agreement signed in 2015 by the leaders of Japan that was designed to draw a final line under the issue of "comfort women," the women in occupied countries forced to work in brothels for Japanese troops. Since his election in May, Moon has overseen the creation of a panel to look into scrapping the agreement. "I would say that at present, this is the worst two-way relationship between Japan and South Korea that I have ever experienced," said Moteki. "And this map could make things even worse. I hope things will improve, but I fear that they will only get worse."

South Korea occupies the rocky and remote islands of Dokdo, but Japan calls them Takeshima and claims they are an integral part of its territory. And as neither side is backing down, relations continue to deteriorate. The discovery of a map drawn in 1861 may reignite a simmering territorial row between South Korea and Japan, and further damage bilateral relations ... Read More »

How North Korea hype helped South Korea’s pro-peace Moon

South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, cannot rely on his resounding election victory for long. Analyst Sven Schwersensky tells DW that Moon has to deliver on difficult issues, both domestically and regionally. DW: It wasn't a surprise that Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party won the South Korean presidential election, but the margin with which he defeated other candidates was quite big. Did you expect the outcome? Sven Schwersensky: The final result was pretty much what the polls had predicted, but what came as a surprise was that the second in race from former President Park Geun-hye's party, Hong Joon Pyo, lost by a significant margin. This was not expected by many in South Korea. One noticeable thing in the election was that about 30 percent of voters cast a blank ballot. This, in my opinion, was a protest by a large number of conservative voters who showed their mistrust to all presidential candidates. It also shows that Moon now has a very important task to perform, most importantly to work for social cohesion to overcome deep divisions and polarization in the country. This is going to be a huge but essential task. An important step in this regard will be constitutional reforms, which Moon said he would strive for and make a preliminary decision on it next year. South Korea is facing a number of crises. The unemployment is growing, the income gap is expanding, corruption is on the rise, and then there is a worsening conflict with North Korea. How can Moon deal with so many issues? Unlike his predecessors, Moon was sworn in immediately after the polls. He has already taken some steps to address the issues. He has ordered the setting up of a job creation committee. Moon promised during his election campaign that he would create 170,000 new jobs in the public sector alone and a total of more than 800,000 jobs over the five years of his presidential term. How difficult will it be for the new president to regain public confidence in the government? Moon needs to establish a different form of political communication, both with parliament and the people. After his victory, he held meetings with the leaders of all political parties represented in parliament and offered them his cooperation. These were short meetings but they show that the new president wants to work together with everyone. Moon says he wants to start a dialogue with North Korea, building on the approach of his mentor and former President Roh. He also said he was willing to visit Pyongyang under favorable conditions. How do you expect Moon to deal with the crisis unfolding on the Korean Peninsula? With the appointments of the secretary of the union and the prime minister, Moon has signaled that he wants to proceed very quickly on his election promises regarding North Korea. At the same time, however, Moon has made it clear that he is aware of the fact that the stringent international sanctions imposed on Pyongyang are necessary. I think the new South Korean president would like to resume talks on the reopening of Kaesong and, perhaps he will initiate other joint economic projects with the North. It will be beneficial for South Korea's economy. To what extent has the conflict with North Korea affected the election result? It is always the case that the conservative camp plays up the fear of a possible North Korean attack and the liberal bloc advocates peace and tries to convince the people that the conflict with Pyongyang cannot be resolved through military means. This time too, the same question dominated the election campaign. Moon, however, has apparently benefited from the North Korea issue, because the conservatives, as well as the United States, overstated the topic. In his election campaign, Moon hinted that he wanted South Korea to rely less on the United States. What will it mean for the US-South Korea relations and, significantly for the future of the US' deployment of the THAAD missile defense system? I think Moon would want a more self-assertive role for South Korea in its dealing with the US. The missile defense system was an important topic in the last phase of the election campaign when US President Donald Trump and his security adviser pointed that Seoul must fund THAAD completely or at least jointly, like other security measures. The Moon administration will also focus on improving ties with China. Nevertheless, whether it will get South Korea any concessions on the missile defense system is unclear. Sven Schwersensky is the country representative for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Seoul. The interview was conducted by Esther Felden.

South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, cannot rely on his resounding election victory for long. Analyst Sven Schwersensky tells DW that Moon has to deliver on difficult issues, both domestically and regionally. DW: It wasn’t a surprise that Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party won the South Korean presidential election, but the margin with which he defeated other candidates was ... Read More »

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