Send Kim Jong-un the bill
The author is the deputy head of the economic planning team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
I like reading savings tips and stories on an online site where about 600,000 Koreans share investment tips. Whenever I check the site to understand the psychology of individual investors, I become solemn about pitiful stories such as “I saved 80,000 won ($67) more this month by cutting 4,000-won coffee on the way to work,” or “Success in not spending money today by eating leftover food in the refrigerator.” Ordinary people in Korea are struggling to make a living.
The Kaesong inter-Korean liaison office that North Korea demolished on June 16 cost 33.8 billion won of taxpayers’ money, including 17.8 billion won on construction and renovation and 16 billion won for operations. That could buy 8,455,250 cups of coffee. There’s also the cost to buy explosives that North Korea used, and South Korean officials spent time and passion on the liaison office. It is an unreasonable cost. Voltaire said that common sense is not so common, and that is still valid on the Korean Peninsula today.
The government condemned the North on June 17, Blue House secretary Yoon Do-han calling it “senseless,” Joint Chiefs of Staffs head of operation Jeon Dong-jin expressed “deep concern,” and the vice reunification minister said it’s a “clear violation on our property right.” But would the criticism make North Korea change its mind? Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, criticized the Korea-U.S. working group, but those who advocate disbanding the group are missing the point. What North Korea actually desires is a North Korea-U.S. working group to remove sanctions. Things are not going in the right direction because they are misreading North Korea’s intentions.
Let’s solve it with money instead of getting angry. How about addressing it with the rhetoric of property right infringement? The priority of the Moon Jae-in administration should be the people who are saving money by cutting 4,000 won coffees. Let’s look at it from the perspective that a building made with taxpayers’ money was destroyed. It is not unrealistic to demand Kim Jong-un pay 33.8 billion won. My advice is to find a way to exercise jurisdiction internationally and call North Korea to the table. I asked legal analyst Shin Hee-suk of the Transitional Justice Working Group, an NGO on North Korean issues, on the possibility of a damage compensation claim, and he said that it is challenging but not impossible.
It must be tough for North Korea. It claims to not have enough paper to print textbooks, but it can print 12 million leaflets. And one thing must not be forgotten. June 25 is the 70th anniversary of 111,000 North Korean troops and 280 tanks invading the South.
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