US talks continue as North and South celebrate Korea day

Seoul’s Moon Jae-in criticises Pyongyang as China gets set to implement strict sanctions

North and South Korea will on Tuesday celebrate Korea's national day – probably the only thing the two states do together, even if the tone and emphasis on either side of the border that separates them will be markedly different.

In Seoul, President Moon Jae-in will give a keynote public address in which he is expected to dwell on the south's long-cherished goal of reunification and urge calm in the current crisis, which has seen an outbreak of verbal hostilities between North Korea and the United States.

In the northern capital, Pyongyang, the day, which marks the end of Japanese colonial rule and liberation at the end of the second World War, is traditionally an occasion for a military parade and fiery denunciation of enemies.

Heated rhetoric was notably absent on Monday following a meeting between Mr Moon, his defence minister and security advisers, and the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, former marine corps general Joseph Dunford and senior US military figures. About 30,000 US troops are permanently based in South Korea.


Gen Dunford said that while the US remained ready to deliver a "decisive" response should Pyongyang carry through on its threat to test fire four ballistic missiles into the sea just off the US Pacific island of Guam, America's focus was first on diplomatic and economic pressures that could be brought to bear on North Korea.

He hoped the current situation would end without war breaking out.

“I think what is important is not to confuse military action with policy,” Gen Dunford said. “Our job is to make sure our leadership has an option available to them.

“I believe there are two things we are clear about: one, our responsibility to defend against attack, two, our requirement to make sure we have a decisive response in the event of attack.”

‘Disturbing the peace’

Mr Moon, who has been criticised domestically for remaining largely silent during the war of words between US president Donald Trump and North Korea, denounced Pyongyang for "disturbing the peace" on the Korean peninsula and urged North Korea's president Kim Jong-un to engage in talks.

“We cannot have a war on the Korean Peninsula ever again,” Mr Moon said prior to meeting Gen Dunford.

"The president noted the current security conditions on the Korean Peninsula constituted a more serious, real and urgent threat than ever created by the advancement in North Korea's nuclear and missile technologies," his spokesman, Park Soo-hyun, said after the meeting.

Little was disclosed as to military matters discussed, which included the full deployment in South Korea of the American-supplied Thaad anti-missile defence system, but Gen Dunford confirmed that next week’s scheduled joint exercises between US and Korean defence forces would take place. This was important, he said, to ensure interoperability and capability in the event of both forces having to work together in combat.

It was also announced by the Korean ministry of defence that Korean and US defence chiefs would hold their first bilateral meeting in Washington on August 30th.

China meanwhile is to implement the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea to which it agreed on August 5th. From September 5th, it will no longer buy North Korean coal, iron and iron ore, lead and fish, among other items.

Coal exports

Almost all – 90 per cent – of North Korea’s exports are to China, with coal accounting for 50 per cent of that trade. The value of North Korea’s exports are down 13 per cent so far this year compared to 2016, a fall in value of about €1.5 billion.

The sanctions, which aim to cut by about one third North Korea’s total annual export revenues of some €2.5 billion, will hit China too as it had increased iron ore imports from North Korea by 60 per cent – trade worth €58 million to Pyongyang.

Gen Dunford is now in China where he said his primary aim was not related to the crisis over North Korea but to improving Sino-American military relations “that will result in mitigating the risks of miscalculations and making sure that we have the ability to communicate in a crisis”.

It was announced on Monday that several senior North Korean diplomats, including ambassadors based in China, Russia and at the United Nations, were back in Pyongyang for consultations not likely to be unrelated to recent events.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times