Resolute reaction is keyNorth Korea has threatened military provocations again in reaction to the dispatch of propaganda leaflets by groups of North Korean defectors. In a statement over the weekend, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, hinted at the possibility of destroying the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong and making other types of armed provocations. Yet the Moon Jae-in administration maintains a laid-back response to the threats.
Warning that Seoul will soon see scenes of the liaison office collapsing, Kim Yo-jong vowed to “hand over all hostile activities to our military.” That’s not all. Derogatory comparisons of President Moon to a “yellow dog” and “SOB” appeared on North Korea’s state mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun.
North Korea’s rough rhetoric worked in the past as the Moon administration tried to accommodate Pyongyang’s complaints each time. After Kim denounced the dispatch of balloons with propaganda leaflets across the border, the government drafted a law banning the practice. Nevertheless, North Korea is ratcheting up its violent rhetoric.
Such attempts at blackmail should be countered by a staunch response. When North Korea threatened to bombard the tense West coast or fire rounds at our guard posts along the demilitarization zone, the government should have vowed an immediate counterattack on the origin of the provocations.
Instead, the government released a tepid reaction even after holding an emergency National Security Council meeting early Sunday. The Defense Ministry repeats its cherished mantra reaffirming “our solid military preparedness for any possible contingencies.” The ruling Democratic Party plans to submit a resolution demanding Moon declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire. Such a timid reaction can send the wrong signal to North Korea. Even during times of inter-Korean exchanges, South Korea must sternly deal with the North’s habitual blackmail and provocations.
The Moon administration must learn lessons from the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010. Thanks to our immediate counterattacks at the time, the North suffered heavier casualties than we did. Since then, Pyongyang has refrained from making military provocations. It pleaded for the resumption of inter-Korean exchanges two months later — living proof that a firm reaction does not hamper inter-Korean ties.
The economic gap between South and North Korea widened last year. In terms of military power, South Korea is ranked sixth while North Korea is 25th. What is the government afraid of? South Korea must maintain firm attitudes for the sake of inter-Korean relations. Otherwise, it will be led by North Korea down the garden path. If the Moon administration sticks with a submissive posture toward Pyongyang for fear of any possible clash, that will ruin its relations with North Korea. South Koreans would not approve it either.