Kang flubs it

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Kang flubs it

We are dumbfounded at what happened during the National Assembly’s annual auditing of the government. On Wednesday, the first day of the audit, the focus was on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha was asked by a ruling party lawmaker if she had “any intention to ease sanctions on North Korea.” She answered that the Foreign Ministry is reviewing the issue with related government ministries. After her remarks stirred controversy, she apologized by saying, “What I mean is that related ministries would always be considering the possibility of easing sanctions.”

As the issue of easing sanctions on the North should be handled by the Unification Ministry, not the Foreign Ministry, Kang should have refrained from answering the question. The May 24 sanctions were imposed by the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration in 2010 shortly after North Korea sank our Cheonan warship in the West Sea.

Kang came up with such a shortsighted answer after Rep. Lee Hae-chan, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party, asked if she was willing to ease the May 24 sanctions, which include a ban on visits to North Korea except for the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tours and a prohibition of inter-Korean exchanges, including investments in the North. Before asking the question to Kang, Rep. Lee, who accompanied President Moon Jae-in last month on his visit to North Korea for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said, “We saw many Chinese tourists there in Pyongyang. Why can’t South Koreans go to Mt. Kumgang? Is that because of the current administration’s adherence to the May 24 sanctions?”

The problem was the way Kang replied. In an interview with the Washington Post a few days before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, she also sparked controversy by asking Washington to withhold its request for North Korea to submit a list of its nuclear weapons to achieve the goal of denuclearization. Kang was criticized for trying to represent North Korea in the denuclearization talks.

The question and answer session between Lee and Kang can give the rest of the world the message that South Korea is trying hard to ease sanctions on North Korea. Even if the May 24 sanctions are eased, its effect will be quite limited.

We can’t violate international sanctions. Sanctions are the very leverage we have to denuclearize the North. If the Moon administration believes Pyongyang will more actively denuclearize as long we show sincerity, that’s wishful thinking.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 11, Page 30
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