Avoiding isolation

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Avoiding isolation

The heated exchange of words among representatives of South and North Korea, the United States and China in Geneva earlier this week raises alarm. In a meeting to address North Korea’s nuclear threat, the United States hinted at the possibility of bypassing Seoul in its dealings with the most belligerent state on earth. Ambassador Robert Wood, head of the U.S. mission in Geneva for arms control, put pressure on North Korea, saying that the United States is prepared to mobilize all its capabilities.

That sounds as if the United States could take military action on its own regardless of South Korea’s position. Responding to the U.S. ambassador’s remarks, the North Korean representative reiterated Pyongyang’s position that South Korea must not be involved in talks between Washington and Pyongyang. He said that South Korea is not qualified to join the dialogue as the nuclear issue is one that should be solved between North Korea and the United States. South Korea increasingly does not have room for involvement in such negotiations.

As Washington and Pyongyang have partly toned down their dire threats, the tinderbox on the Korean Peninsula does not seem ready to explode immediately. But security analysts are convinced that both sides are already engaged in some secret dealing behind the scenes. They base their judgment on U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “is starting to respect” the United States. “And maybe, probably not, but maybe something positive can come about,” he said.

There are rumors that there are contacts going on in New York between Washington and Pyongyang, not to mention contacts in Mongolia between Pyongyang and Tokyo. South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said in an interview that he will put priority on resuming operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

That may be a way for the liberal Moon Jae-in administration to take back some control of the Korean Peninsula issue without being isolated. But Seoul must be careful not to trigger any kind of schism in the international community’s joint front on imposing sanctions on the maverick state.

The government should augment South Korea’s alliance with the United States as much as it tries to improve ties with the North. A reinforced alliance with the United States will help prevent Washington from taking a solo action against North Korea.
It will also help strengthen our position in dealing with the North down the road. In unity is strength!

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 26, Page 26
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