Wake-up callIn Wednesday’s meeting with progressive experts on North Korean issues in the Blue House, President Moon Jae-in reportedly expressed a determination to work through North Korea’s provocations and move on to improve relations with the recalcitrant state across the border.
Despite the North’s shocking demolition Tuesday of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong and threat to redeploy troops to guard posts along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Moon said he would endure such actions. Moon also expressed regret about “not being able to block the dispatch of propaganda leaflets by North Korean defectors” and about the “botched denuclearization of North Korea due to U.S. working groups’ oppositions regardless of U.S. President Donald Trump’s agreement to the North’s proposal.” We are embarrassed and alarmed at Moon’s way of thinking. In a nutshell, it was North Korea who threw cold water on our hopes for rapprochement by breaking a promise to denuclearize and by blowing up the inter-Korean office the Moon administration helped build with a 17-billion-won ($14 million) budget. With weird logic, Moon attributes the current tense relations to the dispatch of propaganda leaflets and U.S. opposition.
After Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul tendered his resignation in a gesture of responsibility, liberal politicians — such as former ruling party floor leader Lee In-young and former presidential chief of staff Im Jong-seok — have been proposed to replace him. If appointed, they — former ardent democracy fighters — will most likely press ahead with appeasement policies toward North Korea in the face of international sanctions citing a lack of assertiveness among former unification ministers.
However, such an approach without strong footing on the ground cannot succeed. The more perseverance the Moon administration demonstrates, the tougher the rhetoric the North will use, followed by ratcheted-up threats and ridicule on a daily basis. North Korea will probably make military provocations along the Northern Limit Line (NLL) on the West Sea and send its own propaganda leaflets into the South via drones. Will the Moon administration persevere with them too?
How would the United States react to the government’s blind push for improved relations with North Korea? Less than a few hours after Moon underscored the possibility of North-U.S. rapprochement “thanks to the deep trust between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un,” Trump extended an executive order on U.S. sanctions on North Korea for another year, making clear his principle that Washington will not lift sanctions unless Pyongyang denuclearizes. Trump’s executive order includes an all-out freeze on North Korea’s assets overseas, a ban on its dispatch of workers to foreign countries, and a secondary financial boycott. No matter how aggressive a new unification minister tries to be, South Korea can hardly aid North Korea on its own as long as the U.S. maintains tough sanctions on the North.
The Moon administration must squarely face reality and take a cool-headed approach. It must accept its policy failures on North Korea over the last three years and draw up realistic strategies while getting ready for any possible provocations from across the border.