Siding with North KoreaNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, denounced South Korea and the United States on Tuesday and demanded a full scrapping of South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises. She even mentioned the possibility of breaking an inter-Korean military agreement signed in Pyongyang. If South Korea and the United States continue their annual drills, “the warm spring day three years ago will not return,” she warned.
We urge our government and military authorities to declare their clear position on joint military exercises. The Moon Jae-in administration not only scaled down the joint drill, which began earlier this month, but also replaced it with a computer-simulated command post training instead of mobilizing troops. The government may have pinned hopes on the possibility that North Korea will accept its proposal for dialogue as long as the annual drill could pass quietly.
In his New Year’s address in January, President Moon said that South Korea could consult with North Korea over the joint drill. But Kim Yo-jong dashed cold water on the government’s expectations saying, “The essence and substance of a drill aimed at waging an aggression does not change” no matter what. She hurled insults at the South Korean government, criticizing it for “making a soulless choice of crossing a red line.”
More disappointing is the Moon administration’s reaction to Kim’s statement. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Unification said that the government is consistently of the position that the joint drill must not raise tension on the Korean Peninsula. We wonder what kind of reactions U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will show on their trips to Seoul today. Our government must refute the North’s ludicrous arguments with clear language. Otherwise, that’s the same as nodding along at Pyongyang’s claim that the joint drill is an aggression toward North Korea.
The Moon administration must immediately stop flattering North Korea. If not, it will fall into a vicious cycle of emboldening it. For instance, the government hurriedly enacted a law aimed at punishing the act of sending anti-North leaflets and other materials cross the border shortly after Kim Yo-jong condemned the practice. Such submissive attitudes send the wrong message to North Korea.
Kim Yo-jong warned the United States not to engage in any provocative acts in the next four years if it wants its people to sleep at night. The Kim regime is closely monitoring the Biden administration’s new North Korea policy. But if Pyongyang believes such a threat can help change the new U.S. administration, that’s a serious miscalculation. On their trip to Seoul Wednesday, the two U.S. secretaries have a two-plus-two meeting with their counterparts. Seoul and Washington must speak in the same voice to prevent North Korea’s provocations and encourage policy changes from Pyongyang.