Moon Goes North

Despite hype surrounding inter-Korean summit, signals indicate tepid expectations for a major breakthrough.

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Hopes are high for the third meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang this week. Some North Korea watchers took an official op-ed in Rodong Sinmun as evidence that Kim was perhaps willing to offer concrete steps toward denuclearization. (Moon reportedly plans to bring up the issue twice during the meeting.) There is even hope that the two leaders may iron out a peace agreement to formally end the Korean War. 

Predata signals, however, suggest that most observers aren’t holding their breath. Our inter-Korean relations signal, which tracks online interest in key issues related to the negotiations, is trending upward but only slightly, showing nothing like the sharp spikes in activity that occurred before the April 27 summit.

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The sources driving the signal have also shifted away from the topics that were active leading up to the April summit. At that time, activity on web pages in Korean and English related to the Armistice Agreement and past inter-Korean summits was high, reflecting the perceived momentousness of the meeting. This time, despite rhetoric from Moon and Kim about reaching a peace agreement, the signal is being driven by interest in narrower economic and security cooperation subjects, such as the Kaesong joint industrial complex and contentious military-related topics. 

Moreover, Korea hawks and doves signals are showing less activity than during the two previous summits. Were watchers sold on the notion that this meeting would produce a significant breakthrough, we would expect these signals to be far more active.

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Still, even without a peace agreement or denuclearization commitments, a summit with incremental steps toward increased economic and security cooperation on the peninsula would be a positive result.