Don’t be a doormatNorth Korea returned to its campaign of denigrating South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in an address to the Supreme People’s Assembly on Friday, advised the South to “speak” more eagerly on behalf of the interests of Koreans instead of posing as an “officious mediator.” He more or less slammed South Korean President Moon Jae-in for over-stepping and not doing enough. Its state media also turned belligerent, claiming Seoul has been showing the least effort or will to improve the inter-Korean relationship and has been cowardly kowtowing to the United States.
Kim flatly denied Washington’s call for a “big deal” — a once-and-for-all solution to denuclearization — and threatened to wait until “the end of the year” for the United States to become more flexible. He more or less was demanding Seoul assist Pyongyang as it wages a game of chicken with Washington. He was asking Moon to choose between the United States and North Korea. His audacity also may be aimed at fanning divisions in the South over North Korean affairs.
Moon has endured criticism from conservatives at home and in Washington for overly indulging North Korea. As result, Kim was able to hold the first-ever summit with a U.S. president. Kim now is repaying that courtesy with vilification. He is challenging Moon to break apart from the international sanctions front. He may be counting on Moon to accept his ways and keep up dialogue in fear of losing votes in the general elections next year.
North Korea is naive to believe such tactics will work. South Korea is a democratic society. Moon’s engagement policy will inevitably lose support at home if the public grows impatient. The South is most vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear threat. It is also a responsible member of the United Nations and cannot veer away from an international front and risk fallout from its strongest ally, the United States. Pyongyang should snap out of its wishful thinking. It is inviting greater sanctions and isolation if it loses the South.
The government also must make its position clear. It is important to maintain dialogue, but it must not condone damage to the national dignity. Seoul has remained civil despite verbal attacks over the last two years. It did not protest when Ri Son-gwon, chief of the North Korean agency in charge of South Korean affairs, humiliated South Korean business leaders accompanying Moon during a state visit to Pyongyang last September. Seoul officials need to know the difference between being nice and being a doormat.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 30