US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
US President Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

US President Donald Trump contracting the coronavirus has prompted concerns in Korea over the effect his illness could have on the security situation on the peninsula, with inter-Korean ties strained amid stalled denuclearisation talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

It is hoped that dire scenarios will be averted by Trump’s quick recovery, and that the US can be counted on to function properly even if his condition worsens.

Trump catching the coronavirus appears to have ruled out a surprise diplomatic event with Pyongyang ahead of the US presidential election. A recent string of visits to Washington by senior South Korean officials, including top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon, sparked speculation that Seoul was trying to help arrange another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Experts here also raised the possibility of Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of the North’s dictator, travelling to Washington this month to convey a message to Trump from her brother.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his aides have been eager to see the resumption of high-level contacts between the US and the North, which they hope will advance their agenda for peace on the peninsula. They may have wanted to hear, during the planned visit to Seoul of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, that Washington intended to set up a big diplomatic event with Pyongyang. Instead the US state department announced the cancellation of the visit in the wake of Trump’s disclosure that he and his wife had tested positive for Covid-19.

Moon’s push for declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, is also expected to lose steam. In his pre-recorded address for the UN General Assembly last month, Moon called for international efforts to declare an official end to the war, which he said would provide the security guarantee the North has long sought, thus prompting the recalcitrant regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions and take the path to a permanent peace regime on the peninsula. Lee, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, apparently sought US support for the peace initiative during his trip to Washington days after Moon’s address. /Seoul, October 6.

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