Lessons from Kim’s disappearance

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Lessons from Kim’s disappearance

The public appearance on Friday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has put an end to all the wild rumors about his 20-day-long disappearance. His reappearance helped ease deepening concerns about the future of the Korean Peninsula. But the recent episode made one thing clear: the unpredictable nature of the North Korean regime is a constant, not a variable. In fact, frequent occurrences of “blackouts” pose serious security risks for South Korea.  
The incident on Sunday of North Korean soldiers firing shots at a South Korean guard post in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) also reaffirmed the security risks as that is a clear violation of the inter-Korean Military Agreement signed in Pyongyang in 2018. The exchange of fire shows that any type of an armed clash can take place regardless of whether Kim holds a solid grip on power across the border. 
Our society experienced a chaotic situation ? including fluctuating stock prices and a deepening sense of insecurity among the public ? in the wake of Kim’s absence. The Moon Jae-in administration, security authorities and experts in North Korean affairs must learn lessons from this situation.  
First of all, the government must double-check our security posture under the presumption that anything, including a health crisis involving the North Korean leader, can happen. Top priority should be placed on reinforcing our intelligence capability towards North Korea. Fortunately, our government’s intelligence network toward North Korea worked well this time.  
A Blue House spokesman stressed the need for our news media to trust the government more than other North Korea sources when it comes to sensitive information about the North. Yet the government must reflect on why wild rumors rapidly spread despite its reiteration that there were “No unusual movements in North Korea.” The government must make an effort to raise its credibility on North Korean intelligence and policies.  
The government also must consolidate communication internationally to prepare for possible contingencies in the North. The worst possible scenario is if neighboring countries, including China, intervene in North Korean affairs after it falls into a power vacuum after a sudden death of its leader. In that case, North Korea’s sovereignty can go adrift.  
Our government should be thoroughly prepared for such scenarios. It must devise proper legal, diplomatic and military reactions. Achieving denuclearization through a peaceful means would be the best solution, but at the same time the government should be fully prepared for any emergencies in the North through building trust with the United States and other countries in the region.  
JoongAng Ilbo, May 4, Page 30 
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