Under the context in which studies on North Korea continue to be led and dominated by Western institutions, the East Asia Institute (President Yul Sohn) operates its English-based website as an alternative to Western-led research on North Korea. The project aims to promote a more balanced perspective on the subject and conduct in-depth research on the Korean Peninsula, reunification strategy, and East Asian regional cooperation strategy toward North Korean threats. This project interviews leading North Korea experts to suggest timely analysis on North Korea once a month. For this month, we invited former Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul (Professor, Inje University) to discuss the direction of the next administration’s North Korea policy. Former Minister Kim analyzes the strategic intentions behind North Korea’s recent missile tests and projects that North Korea is likely to raise the severity of its provocations. He also provides an evaluation of the Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korea policy, stating that South Korea should have created strategic leeway for it to arbitrate between Washington and Pyongyang during the negotiation process. Furthermore, he suggests that the next administration should define its national interests, establish a system that can flexibly coordinate numerous issues areas in the “era of comprehensive security,” and narrow the perception gap on North Korea between generations. This interview was made possible with sponsorship from the Ministry of Unification.


The interview is comprised of two parts – “Part I: North Korea’s Intentions Behind Its Missile Test and the Moon Jae-in Administration’s North Korea Policy” and “Part II: Recommendations for the Next Administration’s North Korea Policy.”


I. “North Korea May Try Out Measures that Border on Crossing the Red Line”


  • ㆍ Former Minister Kim predicts that “prospects for dialogue (between the U.S. and North Korea) seem bleak.”
  • ㆍ He argues that while “North Korea has been focusing on diversifying its intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) until now,” it “will gradually try out measures that border on crossing the red line.”
  • ㆍ Especially, he says that “in the case of 2022, we can expect some sort of satellite launch.” In this regard, he is skeptical of whether “China and Russia would contribute to the U.S. effort to impose additional sanctions concerning the ‘peaceful use of outer space.’”


II. Evaluation of the Moon Administration's North Korea Policy: “South Korean Government’s Autonomy on North Korea Policy was Structurally Constrained”


  • ㆍ Former Minister Kim argues that North Korea used the “Spring Days” of 2018 in Pyeongchang “as an opportunity to negotiate.” This brief window was therefore a “double-edged sword.”
  • ㆍ In this regard, he assesses that "We (South Korea) should have analyzed this aspect with closer detail and fully understood the possibilities and limitations of the talks before engaging in negotiations.”
  • ㆍ While factors that led to the failure of the Hanoi Summit in 2019 can be interpreted in various ways, former Minister Kim cites the inability for the "South Korean government to build strategic leeway in crafting its North Korea policy" as one of the main factors.
  • ㆍ Although “the South Korean government’s autonomy on North Korea policy was structurally constrained,” former Minister Kim points out that “efforts in creating the strategic space in order for South Korea to arbitrate between Washington and Pyongyang or exercise other roles during the negotiation process” were necessary. As the government failed to do so, “Seoul did not have much say in breaking the deadlock.”


III. Policy Suggestions for the Next Administration’s North Korea Policy


  • ㆍ Former Minister Kim provides three policy suggestions for the next government.
  • ㆍ First, he suggests that “national interest should be defined through a broader viewpoint with long-term thinking.”
  • ㆍ Second, the South Korean government should embrace the “era of comprehensive security” and that the “extent and function of diplomacy and security as well as the domestic decision-making system should respectively be tailored to rise of this new era.”
  • ㆍ Third, he urges the government to close the “gap in perceptions.” He states that “in pursuing foreign and security policy, the government should accept changes in public opinion. However, in order to formulate rational decisions, the government should strive to narrow the perception gap between generations.”
  • ㆍ In addition, he highlights the importance of communication between not only domestic researchers, but also overseas researchers, in studying the North Korean nuclear issue and circumstances on the Korean Peninsula. He also underscores the importance of “garnering interest and cooperation among scholars studying the Korean Peninsula.” ■


IV. Biography


Yeon-chul Kim_ is the Former Minister of Unification of South Korea. He is currently a Professor in the Department of Korea Unification at Inje University. Previously, he has served as 16th President of the Korea Institute for National Unification, the former President of The Hankyoreh Peace Institute (2008-2010), former Policy Advisor to the 31st Unification Minister Chung Dong-young (2004-2006), former Research Professor at the Asiatic Research Institute (ARI) of Korea University (2002-2004, 2006-2008), and former Chief Researcher in the North Korea Studies Division at Samsung Economic Research Institute (1997-2002). He has obtained his B.A., M.A, Ph.D. in Political Science at Sungkyunkwan University.



Typeset by Seung Yeon Lee, Research Associate
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