Hasty engagement

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Hasty engagement

We are deeply concerned about the sizzling pace of inter-Korean economic cooperation ardently pursued by the Moon Jae-in administration despite a seeming deadlock in negotiations about the denuclearization of North Korea after the U.S. State Department announced the delay of the meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Yong-chol scheduled for Thursday in New York.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Thursday that the meeting was postponed after Pyongyang notified Washington. That means North Korea proposed the delay for some reason. Security experts attribute it to Pyongyang’s growing dissatisfaction over Washington’s reluctance to accept North Korea’s demand for an easing up on sanctions.

The United States has been steadfastly adhering to its principle of denuclearization before easing of sanctions. U.S. President Donald Trump has reiterated his commitment to the principle over and over. With regard to the delay of the Pompeo-Kim meeting, he said there is no need to hurry it on seven occasions since the announcement. He also stressed four times the importance of North Korea taking reciprocal actions if it really wants to see the sanctions lifted. That’s not all: Trump did not specifically mention the timing of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He said he will meet Kim “sometime next year,” hinting at the possibility of a prolonged stalemate in denuclearization talks.

The problem is Moon’s anxiousness to speed up inter-Korean projects. The Ministry of Unification has stealthily allocated a 350 billion won ($313.5 million) budget to projects to improve the North’s old railway and road systems out of the reserved fund for inter-Korean cooperation for next year. The administration also drastically raised the budget for offering loans to North Korea by 100 billion won. It resorted to such a form of loans to avoid criticisms that it is engrossed in offering handouts to the North to improve inter-Korean relations. But North Korea already owes us 3.3 trillion won so far and shows no sign of ever repaying it.

Inter-Korean cooperation on the economic front is necessary and important to improve South-North relations. But we cannot shake off the impression that the government is rushing toward North Korea even when U.S.-North talks face a stumbling block and the international community’s trust of Pyongyang on the denuclearization front is fading fast.

The Moon administration must pursue economic exchanges with North Korea in accordance with the progress in denuclearization. Otherwise, South Korea will give the world the wrong message that it wants to deviate from the sanctions front. Haste makes waste.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 9, Page 34
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