President Moon Jae-in met with Pope Francis and requested another visit to North Korea after three years. President Moon said, “If you give me an opportunity to visit North Korea, it will be a momentum for peace on the Korean Peninsula.” The Pope also responded, “If you send me an invitation, I will gladly go to help you and for peace.” President Moon met with U.S. President Joe Biden, who attended the G20 summit, and informed him of this fact, and President Biden expressed his expectation that it was “welcome news.” This is not the first time President Moon has asked the Pope to visit North Korea. During a visit to the Vatican in October 2018, President Moon delivered an invitation from Chairman Kim Jong-un, but North Korea has not sent an invitation so far. It is regrettable that North Korea seems to be still clinging to the visit of the Pope, which North Korea ignores.
The Pope is regarded not only as the spiritual pillar of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but also as a symbol of peace and reconciliation in the international community. The pope’s step on North Korean soil is a turning point in itself. In North Korea, the worst human rights oppressor, the light of human rights can shine and it can be a catalyst for religious freedom to sprout. From the North’s point of view, it is unlikely that an event that can attract global attention is quickly accepted. This is a card that North Korea will use to break away from diplomatic isolation and show off its image as a normal nation after the issue of denuclearization is resolved as desired by North Korea. It is for this reason that the Pope’s visit to North Korea did not proceed any further after the breakdown of the US-DPRK summit in Hanoi in February 2019. It is unclear when North Korea, which has closed its borders due to COVID-19, will reopen. Considering the health of the elderly Pope and the fact that the Pope’s overseas visit schedule is confirmed at least a year in advance, it is difficult to achieve within President Moon’s tenure.
It is unknown how North Korea will respond to the Pope’s offer to visit North Korea. By strengthening nuclear armament and creating tensions on the Korean Peninsula through frequent missile provocations as it is now, it is impossible to find a point of contact with the Biden administration. North Korea should not miss its last chance, as a century-old event such as the Pope’s visit can create new momentum for dialogue. It could help to break through the economic and diplomatic isolation deepened by the coronavirus situation.
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