A matter of prideNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, hurled extreme insults at the Blue House on Tuesday. Kim, who has emerged as a big shot in North Korea after her recent appointment as the first vice-department director of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, issued a vitriolic statement on the Blue House’s criticism of the North’s firing of long-range rockets on Monday. She denounced the Blue House for behaving like “a mere child” and a “frightened dog.” She said its reaction was “incoherent and imbecile.”
North Korea’s military exercise was apparently aimed at raising the level of tensions on the Korean Peninsula to gain an upper hand in the deadlocked denuclearization talks. Therefore, South Korea reacted to the threat appropriately. And yet, the Blue House is keeping silent in the face of insults. The presidential office must believe it is exercising “strategic patience” so as not to provoke the belligerent state across the border. We call it magical thinking.
North Korea’s insults are nothing new. But Kim Yo-jong’s rhetoric has splashed cold water on any hopes for rapprochement between South and North Korea. She served as a “peace messenger” with a dramatic appearance at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Through that visit to South Korea with a North Korean delegation and athletes, she helped ease tensions heightened by the North’s repeated nuclear and missile tests — partly thanks to her friendly and amicable attitude. She attended the 2018 inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom with Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Workers’ Party in charge of inter-Korean affairs.
We are deeply chagrined to see her dramatic about-turn. One thing is clear. Despite its reiterations of a desire for peace on the peninsula, North Korea cannot change overnight. Its leader Kim Jong-un may have chosen to encourage his sister to issue a virulent statement toward South Korea. We do not know the details of the discussions President Moon Jae-in and leader Kim Jong-un had during their head-to-head meeting in Panmunjom. But it is extremely dangerous if Moon really believes in Kim’s sincerity on the tricky issues that exist on the Korean Peninsula.
A bigger problem is the Blue House’s silence in the face of such a nasty announcement from Pyongyang. Such a submissive attitude can critically damage the pride and integrity of our nation. Kim Yo-jong’s statement came only a day after Moon proposed inter-Korean cooperation on public health to help North Korea control the spread of novel coronavirus infections. Pyongyang repaid his generosity of spirit with over-the-top ridicule. And yet Moon did not mention the issue in an address at the commencement ceremony of the Air Force Academy on Wednesday.
If Moon continues to show such a supine attitude toward Pyongyang, it will send the wrong message: that Seoul can be dragged by North Korea into its own view of the future.
Sometimes, it’s wise to avoid provocations. But a government must first respect some principles, like national pride. Otherwise, it will not be respected by its own people.