[Viewepoint] Will Santa pass over Korea?

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[Viewepoint] Will Santa pass over Korea?

Santa Claus’ reindeers hold a last-minute strategy meeting to map out their delivery plan for Christmas Eve. Rudolph is in charge and he’s pointing to a map of Northeast Asia, with the Korean Peninsula dominant. He’s tracing a dotted line around the Peninsula. The reindeers seem to be discussing whether the region is safe enough for gift-dropping - or possibly Rudolf is dictating a no-fly zone.

Those of us residing in a so-called hazardous region can’t enjoy the satirical wit of the political cartoon from the Globe and Mail in Toronto, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune this week, as much as readers from other parts of the globe. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is too intense and fast-changing - even for Santa Claus’ hearty crew - that we never know how things may unfold tomorrow or, in fact, in the next couple of hours.

South Korea went through with its live-fire drill on Monday, and after 90 minutes of gunfire, the heavily armed coast of North Korea, across the disputed maritime border, was strangely quiet despite Pyongyang’s repeated threat of a “catastrophic outcome” to the drill. It felt disturbingly like a lull before the storm.

The foreign press has been playing up New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s remark that the situation on the Korean peninsula was a “tinderbox” after he returned from a trip to Pyongyang. The term, which usually is used to describe extreme conflict zones like Palestine, the Balkan Peninsula and Kosovo has now been given to the Korean Peninsula and the frontline island of Yeonpyeong, just a few miles across from the North Korean coastline.

Only last month, this country was praised for successfully hosting the G-20 Summit. Now it is in the eye of a storm, anguished about a potentially devastating war. I may not be alone in my uncontrollable anger and frustration about our situation.

We are outraged by the erratic and intolerable behavior of Pyongyang’s leadership. If North Korea has not fired artillery into civilian territory, today’s tensions wouldn’t exist. North Korea claims the South fired first during a previous drill. But the artillery from that drill fell in the sea, while those from North Korea rained down upon civilians and their homes.

North Korea claims the waters around Yeonpyeong as theirs despite the United Nations-endorsed maritime demarcation both Koreas agreed to in 1953. The marines have been conducting exercises within our side of the Northern Limit Line for the past 37 years. Even if a few artillery shells fell on the North Korean side, a few dead fish are no match for the four human losses on our side. No matter which way one looks at it, North Korea’s Yeonpyeong attack is unforgivable.

I didn’t sleep soundly over the weekend, worried about the escalating tension on the peninsula. I studied the faces of people on their way to work during this time of simmering uncertainty. To my surprise, I noticed little difference from on normal days.

It may be due to a seasoned stoicism after living with North Korea’s threat for so long.

Many are probably wishing the situation won’t escalate into a full-scale confrontation while supporting stern actions against North Korea’s provocations. At heart, they’re probably just as worried as I am that exchanges of harsh rhetoric and artillery could lead to war.

If the South Korean military had responded strongly after the shelling of Yeonpyeong, we would not have had to explain our routine sea exercises. But this is no time for the blame game. Since we have come this far, we cannot back down now. We must show the strength of our backbone so that North Korea does not think twice about provocation.

Once the storm dies down, we must recover our cool. North Korea is an unpredictable time bomb. We must be as careful and delicate as bomb specialists. Too much confidence can lead to reckless moves.

The time calls for bipartisan wisdom and efforts to come up with the optimum approach to North Korea. Even in a land governed by an unpredictable tyrant, good children live. Santa Claus isn’t likely pass them by just because the route to their homes is risky.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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