[EDITORIALS]Minister for vacillationUnification Minister Lee Jong-seok, who is soon to resign from his post, has been vacillating over a planned visit to Mount Kumgang. His visit was originally scheduled for Nov. 17, but he abruptly cancelled it three days before that date, citing personal reasons. Today he says he will visit the mountain. Within the period of two weeks his mind has swung like a pendulum in a stiff wind, and apparently for no good reason.
Since North Korea conducted its nuclear test, people inside and outside Korea have debated whether the tour program to Mount Kumgang should be suspended. There was a serious confrontation between South Korea and the United States on the issue. The South Korean government announced that the tours would continue but stopped providing subsidies for the project, sending a message that its policies would not be the same as they had been before the North’s nuclear test.
If, in the midst of this, South Korea’s unification minister visits Mount Kumgang, the uncertainty over this issue will be exacerbated. It might even suggest to the North that South Korea will resume its subsidies. Thus, Minister Lee’s plan to visit Mount Kumgang is inappropriate to the point of being willfully obtuse.
Nonetheless, Minister Lee confirmed last month his plan to visit Mount Kumgang. Nobody knew what he had on his mind, though it was viewed as his intention to emphasize the importance of the tour project before he stepped down. But then, he cancelled.
His actions attracted a variety of interpretations. Some thought that North Korea rejected the visit because Minister Lee had refused to provide rice and fertilizer after the North test-fired its missiles in July. Some said he must have felt he should be more circumspect after South Korea decided to support the adoption of the UN resolution on North Korea’s human rights violations. Without presenting any clarification of past misunderstandings, Minister Lee now plans, once more, to visit Mount Kumgang.
We wonder if it’s acceptable that the minister in charge of policies toward North Korea can change his position more frequently than a man dancing on hot coals. He has not offered public criticism of North Korea’s leadership since the nuclear test, which broke agreements between South and North Korea such as the joint announcement for denuclearization. And even as he prepares to depart, his main concern is what North Korea might think. This is why some people joke that South Korea’s unification minister must have been nominated by North Korea.