Kim Jong-un’s trapTwo days after expressing an interest in dialogue, North Korea said Wednesday that it will reconnect the communication hotline at Panmunjom. Amid heightened tension over its reckless nuclear and missile provocations, the announcement attracts our attention. No one can dispute the need for inter-Korean talks to help manage the rising risks on the Korean Peninsula, particularly considering the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
But if the Moon Jae-in administration rushes to dialogue, it can fall into Pyongyang’s trap. After shrugging off our government’s proposals for dialogue, North Korea ratcheted up tensions by firing missiles 17 times and conducting its sixth nuclear weapons test last year. Security experts expect it to launch its most advanced ICBM sooner or later. If our government really does not want to repeat past administrations’ mistakes, it must first find out why North Korea has suddenly turned to dialogue after avoiding it for so long.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address offers a clue. He described his country’s new status as a nuclear power a fait accompli and underscored its military superiority over South Korea. He is trying to put a wedge between us and the United States and fuel our internal ideological divisions.
But our government is bent on highlighting its achievements — such as a proposed reunion of separated families and an agreement to form a single team for the Olympics. If it adheres to dialogue while keeping silence on the nuclear threat, it will abandon our principle of dialogue based on the precondition that North Korea scraps its nuclear weapons.
Washington is putting the brakes on Seoul’s drive for dialogue. In reaction to Kim’s nuclear bluff, President Donald Trump tweeted, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is much bigger & more powerful than his, and my Button works!” That suggests the U.S. government has not yet ruled out a military option.
Kim Jong-un has already achieved remarkable results — widening the gap between Seoul and Washington. A rush to dialogue for dialogue’s sake only helps him buy more time to make more nuclear weapons. Only when the government tightens sanctions on the North can Seoul bring it to the negotiating table. Seoul must not throw cold water on international efforts to denuclearize the recalcitrant state. Dialogue should be limited to the sports event. If the Moon administration accepts Pyongyang’s demand for a suspension of the joint drills in return for participation in the games, it will lead to disaster.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 4, Page 30