Guilt and punishment
The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng llbo.
Pyongyang has resorted to the “madman theory,” bombastic and erratic foreign policy tactics used by U.S. President Richard Nixon during the Vietnam War. South Korea was suddenly proclaimed a “sinner” by Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and forced to “pay” for its “crime.” After being summoned to confess to its sins, the Moon Jae-in administration had to watch the wretched sight of the demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. North Korea fumed in outbursts of insults and built up military tension as if to attack. Then it suddenly held off the offensive for South Korea’s “condoning” of dispatching anti-North Korean fliers across the border at the order of its leader Kim.
What had ticked the Kim sibling off? The Moon administration and ruling Democratic Party (DP) are now trying to find excuses for Pyongyang. They subtly blame the North Korean defectors who “betrayed” their motherland, Washington’s overbearing foreign policy and the conservative media. They roll their eye toward John Bolton, former hawkish White House National Security Advisor, for painting Seoul negatively in his controversial memoir. An inward-looking approach is necessary here to assess exactly what South Korea has done wrong — from the perspective of North Korea.
Seoul is accused of three offenses. First, it has committed libel for offending the infallible supreme leader. North Korea can go the extreme to defend the “supreme dignity” of the Kim blood. But South Korea dared to allow the defectors to send balloons with propaganda leaflets encouraging North Koreans to “finish” their hypocritical leader who is a demon that even murdered his own half-brother.
Second, Seoul “deceived” North Korea. The mood suddenly turned amicable in 2018 in a dramatic turn from warlike tensions in late 2017 amid the spiteful exchange of threats between Pyongyang and Washington after the North’s long-range ballistic missile and nuclear tests. In his New Year’s address, Kim announced he would send a North Korean delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics held the winter of 2018 in the South. His sister Kim Yo-jong led the delegation to Seoul at the time. The two leaders — Moon and Kim Jong-un — held summit meetings in Panmunjom on April 7 and in Pyongyang on Sept. 19, 2018. Peace in the world’s last territory of military confrontation looked attainable for the first time.
Third, South Korea “humiliated” the supreme North Korean leader. Kim Jong-un ventured out to the world stage, firmly believing in the meditating role of Moon. Kim even borrowed a private jet from China to fly to Singapore for his first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2018. For the second summit, he travelled over 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) for 66 hours on train to arrive at Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. Kim would have been advised by Moon that the sanctions could be lifted if North Korea dismantled the Yongbyong nuclear facilities. But he was embarrassed as Trump suddenly stormed out of the talks, demanding a complete denuclearization for eased sanctions. Kim had to return home empty-handed.
The impromptu three-way summit at Panmunjom had been merely a media extravaganza. The promises of erecting a Trump tower in Pyongyang and making North Korea the next success story following Vietnam vanished in the air. Kim lost face with his people as he had promised them better livelihood. The sanctions and outbreak of Covid-19 have aggravated lives to the near Great Famine period of 1990s. All the resentment turned to the Moon administration for its ill advice.
From the standpoint of Pyongyang, Moon’s government is guilty. It has made Kim Jong-un an international laughing stock. That’s why South Korea should be “punished,” according to Kim Yo-jong.
The liberal Moon administration has invited the outcome. Former democracy fighters-turned-statesmen have led the talks with North Korea and the United States. They merely spoke for North Korea with less care for denuclearization. It misled Pyongyang. Startled by the rages from Kim Yo-jong, the government prohibited dispatch of anti-North Korea leaflets and proposed a declaration to end the war. Given the unilateral ways of the DP, it could go so far as outlawing criticism toward North Korea or allowing repatriation of North Korean defectors. We cannot know what erratic North Korea would do next. Inexperienced mediation has caused such scary confusion.
Moon’s government should be frank with North Korea. It must bluntly say the sanctions won’t be lifted unless North Korea goes completely nuclear-free. Being helpless — except for enduring the madman’s sword show — has made South Koreans share the same scorn as from North Korea. Pyongyang will continue to find Seoul guilty as long as its inward-approach strategists leave the scene.
The Moon loyalists chant a “Moon” sonata towards their leader. Putting up posters critical of Moon in a university campus has become a crime. What is really baffling is why the Moon aficionados are keeping silence towards North Korea’s slanderous insults at Moon. That’s a mystery.