Pyongyang must listenU.S. Vice President Mike Pence has sent a stern message to North Korea. In a joint statement issued on Monday after a meeting in Seoul with South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president, Pence said America’s so-called strategic patience is over, adding that all options are on the table. He also urged the North not to test the determinations of President Donald Trump and the U.S. military. His remarks strongly hint at the possibility of military action, including a preemptive strike, if Pyongyang crosses the red line — an additional nuclear test and the launch of an ICBM.
At a summit between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida earlier this month, Xi is known to have asked Trump to react to the evolving crisis in a flexible way. That triggered expectations for a softer reaction from the United States. But the Trump administration’s position on the North was strong as Pence’ remarks in Seoul showed. He reaffirmed Trump’s hawkish stance that if China does not deal with North Korea properly, the U.S. and its allies will, even suggesting the likelihood of solo action on the North.
What attracts our attention from Pence’ encounter with Hwang is the U.S. government’s determination to press ahead with the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system. Some confusion arose after one of Trump’s aides on Pence’s trip to Seoul said that the Thaad deployment is an issue the next South Korean government should decide. But Pence has made it clear that Washington would push forward the deployment to defend its ally. We welcome his reaffirmation of the strength of the alliance amid the international community’s effort to pressure North Korea.
Even if Uncle Sam refrains from taking military action at this time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must not think he can breathe easy. No one knows what cards Trump will use if the North crosses the red line. America could pressure China to stop its oil supplies. It will be an irrevocable mistake if Pyongyang believes its brinkmanship would work with the Trump administration. Washington will not accept any promise from Pyongyang if it is not backed by concrete action. There is no other way for North Korea than choosing a path toward denuclearization if it desires to survive.
Our government should be on the alert. What counts most on the international stage is national interests. America and China could use the Thaad card to promote their own national interests. Our national interest could be ignored. Our government must do its best to avert such a tragedy.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 34