On Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean supremo Kim Jong Un, delivered an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to attend a summit in Pyongyang. A Moon spokesman said Kim wants to meet “at an early date.”
Moon is also eager. “Let’s create conditions to make it happen,” he said to Kim’s sister.
What are the right conditions? Observers think the phrase means progress in “denuclearizing” the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a top goal of the Trump administration.
North Koreans, however, are thinking in other terms. As Fletcher School professor Lee Sung-Yoon told The Daily Beast, inter-Korean summits occur because the South agrees to pay off the North. “How much admission fee will Kim charge Moon for the privilege of his Pyongyang pilgrimage?” Lee asked. “In 2000, it was $500 million.” The first year of the millennium saw the first of the two summits between the then leaders of the two Koreas.
Any payment of course would undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign to starve North Korea of resources. Moon, however, believes in supporting the Kim regime, and that is why Vice President Mike Pence’s trip to the Winter Olympics in South Korea’s Pyeongchang was so consequential.
Unfortunately, Pence, in South Korea on Friday, engaged in some of the most counterproductive acts of American public diplomacy in years. His blunders were striking, coming just hours after making an especially strong start in arguing America’s case to the South Korean people. Debacle that day followed triumph.
The vice president’s office made it clear what he intended to do in the Republic of Korea, the decades-old American ally, before the start of his five-day trip. “We’re not going to let the North Korea propaganda machine hijack the messaging of the Olympics,” Jarrod Agen, the vice president’s communications director, told The Washington Post.