No time to go wobblyFollowing the demolition Tuesday of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea on Wednesday declared it would break the Sept. 19 military agreement between South and North Korea signed in 2018. Pyongyang threatened to redeploy troops to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a tourism resort on Mt. Kumgang and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It also warned that it will resume military drills on the West Sea and dispatch its own propaganda leaflets to South Korea. Such threats are nothing but blackmail to turn the clock back to the tense relations from before the June 15th South-North Joint Declaration in 2000.
North Korea’s offensive didn’t stop there. Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, attacked President Moon Jae-in with unimaginable insults. Pyongyang even reminded Seoul of its earlier threat to “turn South Korea into a sea of fire” and exposed the Moon administration’s confidential attempt to send an envoy to Pyongyang to address heightened tensions.
The North’s behavior is shattering the trust both sides have built over the last three years. Pyongyang may have expected Seoul to move to offer aid to the cash-strapped country and help improve the deadlocked North-U.S. relations. That was a serious miscalculation. The more hostile the North becomes, the faster the door to economic aid and normalization of U.S.-North ties shuts. North Korea must return to dialogue with South Korea if it really wants to survive a converging crisis of international sanctions and the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Moon administration should not be paralyzed by a fear of the collapse of the peace process it has worked to establish. The history of inter-Korean exchanges since the July 4 South-North Joint Communiqué in 1972 shows that North Korea demands talks when South Korea deals with it sternly. Fortunately, the Blue House has demonstrated a hard-line stance — albeit belatedly — to the insulting warnings from North Korea.
The Ministry of National Defense warned of a heavy price North Korea may pay if it puts into action a threat to break the military agreement. Yet it would have been better if the ministry had vowed to react to the North’s provocations in proportion to their intensity. That could help get trust from the public and prevent North Korea from making any misjudgments.
Our Defense Ministry should get ready for any possible provocations from across the border. Also, the government must hold Pyongyang accountable for the detonation of the liaison office, which cost 17 billion won ($14 million) to build. If our government brushes it off, it will leave a bad precedent in inter-Korean exchanges because the same thing can happen even after South Korea should upgrade North Korean railways in the future.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul tendered his resignation Wednesday in a gesture of responsbility, making clear that a dovish position alone can hardly produce good results in these extremely challenging times.