Getting ahead of itselfSouth Korea sent refined oil to North Korea to prepare for the establishment of an inter-Korean liaison office in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Refined oil was designated as an item strictly banned from being shipped to the North by the United Nations Security Council. The Moon Jae-in administration sent more than 80 tons of refined oil and diesel fuel — worth 100 million won ($89,246) — in June and July along with electric generators to be used by South Korean personnel in Kaesong to set up the liaison office. Those items were prohibited from entering the North, according to UN resolutions adopted last December.
South Korean authorities took the position that there was no problem with the sending of the oil and generators as they would be used by South Korean staff. Their explanation bears some logic. But the UN sanctions do not mention exceptional cases; it strictly bans any sale, provision or transfer of refined oil to North Korea. Therefore, the South Korean authorities must have been well aware that their actions could become a problem.
Apart from the issue of whether opening a liaison office in North Korea violates UN sanctions, bringing banned items into the North can at the very least cause misunderstanding with the international community. Whatever you do, you should do things in order. Before insisting that it is not a violation of UN sanctions, South Korea must first seek consent from the United Nations, as it has done before. When the government sent North Korea materials needed to restore inter-Korean military communication lines and repair a guest house for the reunion of separated families, it notified the Security Council of those plans in advance and received approval.
The government is also considering removing the definition of North Korea’s military as an enemy in an upcoming military white paper. It is true that South and North Korea agreed to prevent potential military clashes. But North Korea has been dragging its feet on denuclearization. South Korea refrained from conducting the joint Korea-U.S. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drill but North Korea continued its military exercises. The North’s Workers’ Party Covenant still specifies unification of the Korean Peninsula under communism. If South Korea removes the definition of North Korea’s military as an enemy, it is like voluntarily disarming itself.
The government argues that North Korea’s threats would not grow if it sends oil and generators across the border. They could be right. And if the South stops defining the North as its enemy, it may not lead to weakening of our military readiness. But the government must understand that it can’t violate international sanctions before the North starts dismantling its nuclear weapons and missiles.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 23, Page 30