Going easy on Pyongyang

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Going easy on Pyongyang

North Korea fired two types of projectiles suspected to be missiles on Thursday, five days after it blasted off several other short-range projectiles. The latest launches, which President Moon Jae-in referred to as short-range missiles, were fired from the North’s North Pyongan Province at 4:29 p.m. and 4:49 p.m., and flew 420 kilometers (260 miles) and 270 kilometers. The Pentagon identified them as ballistic missiles, which are banned under the United Nations (UN) resolution and are also in violation of the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement to cease any form of armed provocations. North Korea is using its military muscles to test the patience of South Korea and the international community.

Pyongyang blatantly fired off the missiles in time with the Blue House celebrating the completion of Moon’s second year in office. It outright put pressure on Moon, who has been persistently friendly toward North Korea in spite of skepticism and protests at home and abroad. The president needs to respond with coolness.

During a live TV interview on Thursday, Moon warned North Korea that such provocations could upset the mood of dialogue and negotiations. His comment was correct, but his tone remained soft.

“I do not agree that North Korea has violated the UN Security Council resolutions or inter-Korean military agreement,” he added. If the launches are confirmed to be ballistic, they would be in violation of the UN resolution. “But I do not think so,” he declared. “Unlike in the past, North Korea has refrained from hyping the tests as rockets,” he said. This advocacy for the North Korean military moves from their commander in chief is unsettling to people in the South.

Moon suggested the government’s plan on food aid to North Korea requires agreement and support from the people following the latest provocation from North Korea and proposed to hold a meeting with political party leaders on the issue. Again, his over-indulgence of the North despite its show of belligerence could send the wrong message to Pyongyang and undermine the concerted international efforts to denuclearize the North through sanctions.

Before initiating discussion with the political parties, the government set guidelines. It should at least declare that it will be putting off humanitarian aid until North Korea returns to denuclearization negotiations. Otherwise the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could trumpet the aid as a win by the North over the South and the United States, with its tactics and earn support to sit out denuclearization negotiations until the end of the year. We could see the North abandon the mood of dialogue and peace with rewards without any progress on denuclearization. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.
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