Stop bashing HarryControversy has erupted after the Moon Jae-in administration considered allowing individual trips by South Koreans to North Korea. When U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris raised it as an issue, a number of South Koreans made derogatory remarks bordering on personal attacks. The new developments are threatening to damage the decades-old alliance with the United States.
The government has based the proposal on the United Nations sanctions on North Korea, which exempt individual tours from the ban. The Moon administration desires to facilitate inter-Korean exchanges through the lift to revitalize the deadlocked South-North relations and help resume the stalled U.S.-North dialogue. The government’s move must have come out of desperation to “take the driver’s seat” on Korean Peninsula issues.
In fact, the UN sanctions do not apply to individual tours to North Korea, as evidenced by frequent trips to the country by Chinese people. Nevertheless, our government must think twice before allowing such individual tours without any conditions. Not a single nuclear weapon or missile has been dismantled in North Korea since early 2018, when the North’s leader Kim Jong-un declared a willingness to get rid of its nuclear weapons.
Since then, the international community led by the United States has been imposing tough sanctions on North Korea. If the South Korean government allows individual-level tours to North Korea under such circumstances, it will surely create an ominous loophole in international sanctions. Revenues from individual tourists, if they are accumulated, will be a boon for the cash-strapped regime in Pyongyang.
If the Moon administration really wants to allow such individual tours, it must get concessions from North Korea in a reciprocal way — whether it be a shutdown of its nuclear facilities or a scaling back of its military drills. Otherwise, our government cannot avoid criticism for returning to its humiliating diplomacy toward Pyongyang and generous cash handouts to the recalcitrant regime. Moreover, it is not clear if North Korea would accept it.
Even if North Korea decides to receive South Korean tourists, ensuring their safety is another matter. We had a nightmarish accident in 2008, when a South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korea guard for no reason while she was touring Mount Kumgang.
Also, the government must make clear who should take responsibility for unwanted accidents in North Korea.
Given such complicated factors, Ambassador Harris made reasonable remarks when he pointed to the need to consult with Washington in the platform of a joint working group meeting. It could have been better if the ambassador, a former admiral, had used more refined rhetoric. Yet it is not right for some South Koreans to denounce him for “behaving as a governor” or “interfering in our domestic affairs.” The government must think again before allowing individual tours and stop bashing the U.S. ambassador for inappropriate reasons.