The hotline off the hook

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The hotline off the hook

At 4 p.m. on Dec. 31, the Ministry of Defense distributed a press release about Defense Minister Han Min-koo’s telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan. A direct hotline between the defense ministers of Korea and China had opened.

The Defense Ministry released the remarks of minister Han: “I am pleased to end the last day of the year with the opening of a direct telephone line as we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of Korea-China relations.” Chinese Minister Chang said that the opening of the hotline was a “landmark event.” Han called it “a meaningful accomplishment based on mutual trust and cooperation between the defense authorities of the two countries.”

However, what Chang called “landmark” stopped working on Monday. It has not been cut off, but when Seoul calls, Beijing simply does not answer.

Seven days after Pyongyang announced the hydrogen bomb test on Jan. 6, the hotline is still not working. The Ministry of Defense explained, “Minister Han said at the National Assembly’s defense committee meeting on Jan. 7 that they are negotiating with China to have a phone conversation. At the moment, China’s defense ministry is not talking with any other country. We have made a request, and are still waiting for a reply.”

That’s a remarkable contrast with the excitement of the press release on Dec. 31 celebrating the significance of the hotline. In the press statement, our Defense Ministry wrote that it planned to actively use the hotline as a basis to promote mutual understanding and trust and reinforce strategic communication between high-level officials based on the shared understanding for the development of bilateral relations between President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It also added that emergency situations in the Korean Peninsula could be prevented and crises could be managed more effectively.

The origin of hotline was the direct communication system between Washington and Moscow set up in August 1963 to prevent unintentional war due to misunderstanding or accident. It was literally an emergency phone.

However, the hotline between Korea and China is off the hook in January 2016, when the Korean Peninsula is in a “hot situation.” While the hotline was expected to contribute to the peace in Northeast Asia and safety of the Korean Peninsula, it is cooling down due to China’s rejection. China is not an ally, but the Park Geun-hye administration has put special care on diplomacy with China, classifying it as a friendly nation.

But the special care seems to have no effect when Pyongyang conducted the fourth nuclear test. More pathetic is the excuse that high-level defense ministry officials made. “It is up to the Blue House to solve the problem, and there’s nothing we can do.”

The author is a political and international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 12, Page 29

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