Change the security staffMarking the 20th anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration in Pyongyang, North Korea threatened retaliations for the dispatch of propaganda leaflets by North Korean defectors across the border. Despite the significance of the landmark declaration, its state mouthpiece, the Rodong Shinmun, vowed “relentless — and endless — retaliations” against South Korea.
North Korea’s resort to belligerent actions dismissive of the spirit of the joint declaration to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula rings alarm bells. The newspaper’s threat follows a warning by Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, to “hand over all hostile activities to the military.”
The unexpected deterioration in inter-Korean relations is the result of the Moon Jae-in administration’s half-baked North Korea policies and his incompetent aides handling security and diplomatic affairs in the Blue House. From the start, the government was overly optimistic about denuclearization of North Korea and improvement in inter-Korean ties. As a result, the government has been hoodwinked by North Korea.
Despite growing concerns in the United States about North Korea continuing to reinforce its nuclear capabilities, the Moon administration hurriedly mediated between Washington and Pyongyang without taking into account realities on the ground. That led to the collapse of the Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un last year.
The farcical cycle of provocations, dialogue and aid to North Korea is nothing new. Moon must face up to the harsh reality. Yet the National Security Office in the Blue House is not functioning properly. Ministers handling diplomacy and defense are no exception. A critical lack of ability to say no to their boss’ bottomless optimism on North Korea has only backfired.
At a time when tensions are mounting on the peninsula, the government must change its North Korea policy. North Korea stopped provocations and returned to dialogue when it judged they did more harm than good. The government must deal with North Korea based on firm principles and a joint defense capability with America. Communication and cooperation with the North comes next.
At the same time, the government must turn this security crisis into an opportunity to achieve denuclearization and rapprochement with North Korea. For its part, Pyongyang must recognize that it is not the time for provocation but the time for denuclearization if it wants to overcome an economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak.