A laid-back governmentDespite the heightened tension over North Korea’s possible launch of an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) — as a “Christmas gift” to the United States — and a U.S. threat to take military action in response, Christmas has passed without trouble. However, there is no indication that the recalcitrant state will give up on its signature provocations. North Korea will most likely open a plenary session of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party within three to four days and demonstrate a strong determination to counter U.S. threats. Based on the results of the meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will almost certainly declare to take a “new path” in his New Year’s message, which includes the further development of ICBMs.
Washington is on full alert. The U.S. Air Force flew its cutting-edge reconnaissance aircraft, such as RC-135W Rivet Joint and RQ-4 Global Hawk, over the Korean Peninsula. In the past, those spy planes did flybys after turning off their location identification system, but this time they didn’t — most likely to warn about a military retaliation if Pyongyang continues to provoke.
And yet, our government’s reaction is extremely laid-back. On a recent trip to China on Tuesday and Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in underscored the need to ease international sanctions on North Korea, develop a “peace economy” together with Pyongyang, and mentioned an initiative to link the South-North railways to Europe through China. Despite the need to engage North Korea, that could send the wrong message to Pyongyang, not to mention widening schisms in the alliance with the United States.
On Wednesday, a Blue House official said, “Xi’s trip to Seoul is almost for sure.” Even though a summit between Moon and Xi is not fixed yet, how can a high government official make such an announcement despite the need to contain North Korea through Xi’s visit to South Korea. No doubt such a feeble attitude — trying to avert a strategic provocation by North Korea through Xi’s trip to Seoul — has limits from the beginning.
Our government’s top priority should be bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table by sternly reminding it that any additional provocations will only invite more — and tougher — sanctions. To achieve that goal, the Moon administration must strengthen its diplomatic leverage by faithfully restoring the decades-old alliance and rebuilding its security cooperation with Japan. If North Korea’s denuclearization shows substantial progress, sanctions are to be eased as a result. The Moon administration must not forget that half-baked sanctions will only help embolden Pyongyang to become an irreversible nuclear power.
North Korea must make a wise choice this time. If it provokes again, U.S. President Donald Trump may resort to a military option to divert public attention from his impeachment in the House of Representatives and an upcoming trial in the Senate. Pyongyang must realize that there is no other way to solve the problem than returning to dialogue.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 27, Page 34