Avoiding a trapThe Korean Peninsula is heading toward a watershed moment. President Moon Jae-in will hold a luncheon for a high-level delegation from North Korea. His meeting with Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, carries great significance as she may be carrying some kind of message from her mighty brother.
Our government wants North Korea to take the path of denuclearization — starting with a nuclear freeze and ending with dismantlement — through inter-Korean talks after the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. But North Korea has a different idea. It insists on resolving the nuclear issue “between the Korean people” while maintaining its nuclear armaments. That could force South Korea to deviate from international sanctions.
In a surprise move, North Korea started a charm offensive. Following its acceptance of our proposal for a joint women’s ice hockey team to play at the Olympics, it sent Kim Yo-jong — a member of the “Baekdu blood-line” — to South Korea. In a carefully choreographed campaign to neutralize the sanctions, it dispatched the Mangyongbong-92 ferry, which is banned from traveling, and included a top official also under an international ban.
We hope Moon makes two points clear in his meeting with Kim. First, he must demonstrate a determination to denuclearize North Korea. If he cannot raise that issue, the meeting is meaningless. As North Korea has yet to finish its nuclear stockpile, the clock is ticking.
Second, Moon must say that his government will strictly enforce international sanctions until Pyongyang shows a sincere willingness to denuclearize. In fact, Kim Jong-un’s about-face is a byproduct of China’s more rigorous participation in sanctions than earlier. Despite many gaps with the United States, China shares with South Korea the same goal of denuclearization.
South Korea is North Korea’s last resort. Pyongyang’s dispatching of Kim Yo-jong testifies to its deepening pains from sanctions. She will likely propose a South-North summit in today’s luncheon to break the deadlock.
Holding an inter-Korean summit could be important for peace on the peninsula. But we must be careful not to be cheated or tricked. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday toured the Cheonan waship destroyed in a North Korean attack and talked with North Korean defectors. The government must read his message.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 10, Page 26