GM woes, sanctions to highlight Moon-Trump summit

GM woes, sanctions to highlight Moon-Trump summit

BUENOS AIRES ― The main topic of the upcoming summit between President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump is how to break an impasse in the denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

There are, however, other issues that will be high on the agenda. Sources say the two leaders may discuss the possible easing of sanctions against the North, the suspension of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, and how to minimize the effects in South Korea of General Motors' restructuring.

Moon arrived in the Argentine capital late Thursday to participate in high-profile meetings with the leaders of advanced economies. The Moon-Trump meeting is scheduled for early Saturday.

"Instead of giving direct advice to move ahead with the denuclearization talks, Moon plans to reassure Trump that the United States is doing the right thing in bringing a lasting peace to the Korean Peninsula. Also, Moon will inform him of possible outcomes if the stalled talks are revived," a presidential aide told The Korea Times.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has recently granted a sanctions exemption at the request of South Korea for a survey that would help reconnect railway links between the two Koreas.

The UNSC placed extensive sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear program back in December 2017. The United States initially proposed the sanctions, which were adopted by a vote of 15 to 0. Because of the nature of the sanctions, the exemption raised expectations in South Korea that similar measures will follow.

The aide added the government believes that complete denuclearization will be hard to achieve unless Washington offer's some incentives.

Political analysts say Seoul will prolong Pyongyang's vacillation over denuclearization by raising expectations of sanctions relief. But this may bring about concern that the North is successfully sowing division between South Korea and the United States. If that happens, then Trump's only foreign policy achievement to date will be threatened.

Consequently, Moon is expected to stress Seoul's repeated commitment to the strong military alliance with the United States during their summit.

Following a recent decision to suspend major joint air defense drills to allow diplomatic efforts with North Korea, Moon is expected to ask Trump to apply a phased and coordinated approach to modify training exercises.

GM restructuring debacle

Both the short- and longer-term impact of General Motors' (GM) heavy restructuring of its business in South Korea are also likely to be a key summit issue to be touched on, another presidential aide said.

GM is laying off workers and closing production lines as part of its shift toward self-driving and electric vehicles (EVs). After GM Korea recently closed its plant in Gunsan, one of the key support bases for Moon, the company is rumored to be considering shutting all of its factories here.

This, accompanied by little progress in the denuclearization talks that has already impacted Moon's popularity, could drag down the President's approval rating even more due to the worsening economic indices.

Approval ratings are important for South Korean Presidents to push their agendas and maintain authority within their own party to delay the almost inevitable arrival of "lame-duck" status that leaves them politically-paralyzed.

The country's unemployment rate increased in October because of continued falls in employment in the retail and hospitality sectors, and no clear signs of a rebound in job creation. Last month, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, up 0.3 percentage points from the same month the previous year, according to data from Statistics Korea.