Thursday

23rd May 2019

Opinion

North Korea: time to put the 'E' in engagement

  • North Korea: a crowd in 2007 pay mass tribute to Kim Jong-il, father of the dynastic regime's current leader (Photo: Flickr)

The EU has a policy of so-called 'critical engagement' towards North Korea.

In a nutshell, this implies that Brussels is willing to use both carrots and sticks when dealing with Pyongyang but – crucially – that cooperation is a central element of its policy toolkit.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

As the tide in Korean Peninsula affairs shifts towards diplomacy and talks, it is crucial for the EU to be bold and use engagement to both induce change from Pyongyang and enhance its role in the region.

It is fair to say that the EU has been more willing to implement the 'critical' component of its policy in recent years.

Indeed, Brussels often boasts that it applies the most comprehensive sanctions regime on Pyongyang, going beyond UN requirements.

In addition, EU-North Korea summits have been put on hold since 2015 and EU aid towards the Asian country is very small compared to similarly poor countries.

In other words, Brussels has gone out of its way to punish the Kim Jong-un regime as it developed its nuclear and long-range missile programmes.

A more forceful approach made sense as long as the governments of Barack Obama and Donald Trump applied pressure on North Korea. It was also logical at a time when two successive conservative governments in South Korea took a tough stance towards Pyongyang.

But the dramatic developments over the past few weeks culminating in preparations for the first inter-Korean summit in over a decade and, above all, a potential Trump-Kim meeting call for Brussels to move towards engagement.

Sooner, the better

And the sooner, the better. Otherwise the EU runs the risk of being side-lined by events.

To begin with, the EU should think about resuming its summit meetings with Pyongyang. This would not be difficult to do, for Brussels can simply reactivate its existing bilateral dialogue and several EU member states still maintain their embassies in Pyongyang.

A meeting with the Kim government should not be seen as any 'reward for bad behaviour'. Rather, it would serve as a venue for the EU to present its position and demands to North Korea.

It would also allow Brussels to hear Pyongyang's position directly from the Kim government, rather than mediated through a different interlocutor. At a time when South Korea and, potentially, the US are about to hold their own bilateral meetings with North Korea, there is no reason for the EU to refrain from doing so.

In addition, the EU should consider scaling up economic cooperation with North Korea.

Certainly, this should be done in cooperation with partners such as South Korea or international organisations. But the Moon Jae-in government in Seoul has already indicated that it is willing to resume old economic cooperation initiatives with its northern counterpart while also launching new ones.

Plus, the Kim Jong-un government's byungjin line has elevated economic development to the forefront of its goals.

As a fanciful as it might seem, Pyongyang believes that it can follow on the steps of China and Vietnam and become an attractive destination for foreign investors. Arguably, economic reform is the best means to create a peaceful environment in the Korean Peninsula in the long run – a key EU goal for the region.

There are strong signs that the Moon government would like the EU to change tack in its North Korea policy.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha will be attending the foreign affairs council on Monday (19 March) to present her government's policy.

Talk in Seoul is that the international community should give economic engagement with North Korea a try – including the EU.

And the South Korean government is making a special effort to keep the EU informed of the latest developments in inter-Korean relations – in contrast to the six-party talks years, when Brussels was excluded from key decisions on North Korea.

As one of its strategic partners, it would be wise for the EU to reciprocate and provide concrete support to South Korea as it tries to bring North Korea out of the cold. In return, Brussels can expect Seoul to continue to keep it very regularly informed of its North Korea policy.

From a purely EU-interest driven perspective, supporting engagement independently and swiftly will also serve to enhance Brussels' reputation in East Asia as it seeks to continue its pivot towards the region.

Brussels - follower or leader?

Often, Brussels is seen as a follower rather than a shaper of events in the region. While it is true that the EU should not expect to be seen as a driver of Korean Peninsula affairs, it can be seen as a strategic player with the flexibility to quickly adapt its policy its geostrategic changes.

Recent events are an excellent opportunity in this respect. With engagement poised to dominate inter-Korean relations in the coming months and years, the EU has an opportunity to support an ally, help to drive change, and be seen as a credible actor.

Dr Ramon Pacheco Pardo is Korea Chair at the Institute for European Studies of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Senior Lecturer at King's College London

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU in diplomatic push to save Iran deal

EU leaders mobilise to stop Trump's attack on Iran deal, as Congress prepares knife-edge vote with implications for trans-Atantic ties and Middle East stability.

Europe could lose out in North Korean bonanza

South Korean businesses including Hyundai and Samsung are already scoping investment opportunities. Will North Korea become a 'new Vietnam' opportunity - or more like Myanmar, where slow Brussels policy-making meant EU exporters lost out.

Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate

European voter turnout is in deep crisis. Since the early 2000s, the share of voters in national elections has fallen to 66 percent on average, which means that the birthplace of democracy now ranks below average globally.

Can Tusk go home again?

The opposition may not be able to defeat the rulling PiS without him, but if Donald Tusk wants to go home again, he will first have to remember where he came from.

Europe's far-right - united in diversity?

Europe's far-right is set to rise in the next European Parliament election. This vote will not yet allow the populists to build a majority. But it may become another milestone in their process of changing European politics.

News in Brief

  1. Poll: Denmark set to double number of liberal MEPs
  2. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  3. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  4. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  5. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  6. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  7. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  8. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us