An effort to ease concernsPresident Moon Jae-in’s debut at the United Nations ended without a major hitch. In an address to a General Assembly meeting on Thursday, he underscored the need for “strong sanctions and pressure” on North Korea while stressing the importance of peace in the Korean Peninsula, as expected. Moon said that Seoul has been consistently highlighting the need for such a hawkish approach to bringing North Korea to negotiations. He also expressed appreciation for the UN Security Council’s tougher sanctions. Yet Moon did not skip a plea for maintaining peace on the peninsula, adding that his government and the international community should resolve the North Korean threat peacefully.
Many observers expected Moon to prioritize peace over pressure in his speech, given his persistent call for dialogue. But he ended up striking a delicate balance between the two paths. Moon accentuated a need for stronger reactions to the North’s belligerency until it gives up its nuclear program even while emphasizing a need for talks so as not to deepen the tension or trigger a military clash by accident.
President Moon’s “watered-down” speech owes much to U.S. President Donald Trump’s frightening remarks on Tuesday. Trump warned that the United States will have “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” if it is forced to defend itself and its allies. Moon’s diluted address could be aimed at easing growing concerns about the decades-old Korea-U.S. alliance.
Nevertheless, the Moon administration’s last-minute decision Thursday to provide $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea can hardly avoid criticisms at home and abroad. We don’t oppose such philanthropic relief itself. Who would blame his administration for offering food and medicine to thousands of malnourished children and pregnant women in North Korea? But the problem is timing.
Given the possibility that Pyongyang and Washington will find a diplomatic breakthrough in the deadlock, some security experts point out a need for Seoul to continue to extend helping hands to the impoverished nation. But the Kim Jong-un regime is still engrossed in developing nuclear weapons which could kill millions in South Korea. On Wednesday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho went so far as to attack Trump’s UN speech with inconceivable insults.
Signs of schisms in the traditional alliance between Seoul and Washington are everywhere after the launch in May of the liberal government in South Korea. The government must think again when it fixes its North Korea policy.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 22, Page 38