A mute president

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A mute president

The commander-in-chief must speak up in times of crisis. But President Park Geun-hye did not - even when the government took the drastic measure to suspend all operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean engagement. The president should have explained the inevitability of her decision and delivered a strong message calling for the international community’s united reaction to North Korea’s latest nuclear and long-range missile tests.

But President Park was hiding behind her minister of unification, who was given the job of explaining the abrupt suspension. It must have been a tough decision for her, given the huge impact on tens of thousands of North Korean workers at the joint industrial park and the hundreds of South Korean entrepreneurs involved. Considering that she didn’t come near to closing the park even after a five-month shutdown shortly after she came into office in February 2013, we would have expected her not to give up on the project very easily.

Before resuming operations in Kaesong the last time around, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to ensure normal operations of the complex “under any circumstances,” which Park approved. If the president had explained why the government had to stop operations, it could have helped people understand the reasons more easily.

The responsibility for the shutdown falls on North Korea, which took a step closer to more advanced nuclear weapons following its fourth nuclear test in January and the launch of a long-range missile that can strike a target 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) away. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must pay the price for his reckless provocations that ignore very stern and clear UN Security Council resolutions. Yet the president herself should have clarified the inevitability of the decision to the public as there are some suspicions about whether it was really justifiable.

Officials at the Blue House and the Ministry of Unification say that it would be contradictory if we demand other countries freeze the North’s financial transactions while we funnel over $100 million annually to the North through the Kaesong park. The president should have clearly explained this reasoning and then pleaded for the international society’s participation in sanctions. That kind of presidential diplomacy can maximize the effect of sanctions.

A new cold war is descending on the Korean Peninsula. At times like this, Koreans need their leader’s reassurances.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 30

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