North Korea provokes againNorth Korea fired three short-range projectiles off its eastern coast Saturday in an apparent display of distaste over the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG). The launch came amid eased tensions after both Pyongyang and Washington toned down their deadly rhetoric triggered by Pyongyang’s threat of firing missiles toward Guam. Washington has been indicating dialogue after positively reviewing Pyongyang’s restraint. North Korea, however, renewed its signature brinkmanship and tested South Korea and the United States through another provocation.
Seoul responded coolly towards the latest provocation. Instead of condemning the move, it said the firing of short-range missiles was not “strategic provocation” but a “routine exercise” in response to the joint exercise by the South Korea and U.S. forces across the border. It advocated for Pyongyang, saying that North Korea would have had to take some kind of face-saving action after talking tough against the joint military exercise.
The projectiles could not have been aimed at the United States across the Pacific. But they put South Korea in their immediate range. North Korea is under the toughest-ever international sanctions after conducting missile tests seven times since President Moon Jae-in took office in May. Seoul and Washington scaled down the UFG exercise in order not to further provoke Pyongyang.
Yet, North Korea has gone through another short-range missile launch. Seoul should have issued a condemnatory statement and readied a response action. But it feigned a National Security Council meeting that lasted only about an hour. It may have wanted not to ruin the reconciliatory mood. But there are conditions to a dialogue. A dialogue cannot go smoothly if it is obvious that Pyongyang does not respect Seoul.
Needless to say, North Korea’s denuclearization must be achieved through peaceful means. Moon wants not only to solve the problem through diplomacy, but also ensure that Seoul is in the “driver’s seat” on the issue. He is right, but he cannot do so alone. He must convince and earn minimum support from the conservatives still skeptical of his engaging policy towards North Korea.
If he does not have backing from his own people, he cannot expect to persuade North Koreans and others. He must seat conservative experts in security and foreign affairs-related posts to balance his policy on North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 28, Page 34