Clearer perceptions required

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Clearer perceptions required

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo got into hot water for their comments on North Korea. During parliamentary questioning, Kang said the United States had demanded from North Korea a freeze of its mass destruction weapons program, not its elimination, during a summit with North Korea in Hanoi, Vietnam. She had been asked to clarify whether Seoul and Washington were on the same page on denuclearization. Kang’s comment came as utterly baffling as the complete destruction and elimination of nuclear weapons has been the consistent international demand on North Korea. U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly made it clear that he wants all or nothing — complete elimination of weapons of mass destructions — not just the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon. As always, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement to correct its boss’ “slip of the tongue.”

Kang also was on the wrong note on North Korea’s concept of denuclearization. When asked whether Seoul and Pyongyang were in sync on the meaning of denuclearization, she said they were. But how Pyongyang sees denuclearization is clearly different from our wishes.
North Korea wants the United States to remove its strategic assets protecting South Korea. It is more or less demanding the dissolution of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. According to Andrew Kim, a former CIA Korea Mission Center chief, the Hanoi talks broke down partly because North Korea demanded Washington remove its strategic nuclear assets in Guam and Hawaii. Yet the South’s foreign minister is claiming Seoul and Pyongyang share the same idea of denuclearization.

Our defense minister is equally bewildering. In separate parliamentary questioning, he said the 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan was an “unfortunate clash between the two Koreas.” The patrol ship was hit by a North Korean torpedo on March 26, 2010, killing 46 South Korean sailors and a naval officer Han Joo-ho on a rescue mission. Jeong has served as the chief of staff for the Air Force and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The minister was an active officer during the Cheonan sinking. It is beyond comprehension for him to describe the sinking as a “skirmish,” not an “attack.”

How can we expect our ally to have any confidence in the Seoul government with such questionable figures in charge of foreign affairs and security? The Treasury Department announced Thursday that it was going to slap fresh sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies accused of helping North Korea evade sanctions. It also blacklisted a South Korean vessel suspected of an illicit transshipment. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said nothing has changed in North Korean weapons capabilities and U.S. defense policy in spite of denuclearization negotiations. “I see that Kim Jong-un still has a ballistic missile capability. I see that he has nuclear capability. I still see a potential, although as yet undemonstrated, ability to match a nuclear weapon with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” he told a forum in Washington Thursday. “I think it’s incumbent upon the United States military to be prepared to defend the homeland and our allies from that eventuality. And that’s what we’re focused on.” Pyongyang has pulled its staff from the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. There are zero positive developments. It is time for our foreign and defense ministers to become more clear-headed on North Korea.

JoongAng Sunday, March 23-24, Page 30
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