It’s up to PyongyangIn a speech on Liberation Day on Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in stressed that we can achieve genuine liberation by establishing a common economic community with North Korea. We agree. The division of our land shortly after our liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, the Korean War that devastated the country, and the continuing confrontation between South and North Korea are no doubt the tragedy of the Korean People. As Moon underscored, it is important to overcome the division for our prosperity. Who would oppose if South and North Korean people could freely cross the border after establishing peace in this land, even if political unification is not achieved?
But we cannot help but ask if such a time has really come. It was North Korea that repeatedly splashed cold water on our efforts toward reconciliation and economic cooperation. Despite the South’s persistent aid to the North — as seen in the supply of a nuclear reactor jointly with other countries after the first nuclear crisis in 1993 and the launch of Mount Kumgang tours and the Kaesong Industrial Complex — North Korea was found to have been secretly enriching uranium for weapons, which led to the second nuclear crisis in 2002. Despite the showy destruction of a nuclear cooling tower in Yongbyon in 2008, North Korea pressed ahead with nuclear and missile tests in 2017 and declared itself a nuclear power.
That’s why concerns are deepening over Moon’s proposal to establish a special economic zone near the Demilitarized Zone. South Korea learned plenty of lessons from the North’s violations of agreements. Moon attached strings such as “if military tension is eased and peace settles,” but he ignored the slow pace of denuclearization.
When Moon meets North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in September, he must urge him to take concrete steps toward denuclearization. He must make it clear that all inter-Korean exchanges will go down the drain if he does not demonstrate sincerity.
The president also expressed hopes for Uncle Sam to swiftly lift sanctions in accordance with the North’s implementation of denuclearization. But Washington’s lifting of sanctions is possible only when Pyongyang takes action to denuclearize. Only then can Moon realize his bold design to connect East Asia through railways.
Whether Moon’s ambitious proposal will help the recalcitrant state achieve an economic miracle similar to Vietnam’s depends entirely on the regime in Pyongyang.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 16, Page 30