Standing up to North Korea

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Standing up to North Korea


Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The North Korean nuclear crisis is going back to the “fire and fury” state in 2017. This year alone, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles, including hypersonic missiles. Pyongyang has suggested that it will end its self-imposed four-year moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests. For a showdown with the United States, North Korea is trying to rattle the entire Korean Peninsula. The Korean Peninsula Peace Process and an end-of-war declaration — energetically pushed by the Moon Jae-in administration — are destined to fail. We must side with the U.S. and international community and issue a stern warning to North Korea.

But the Moon administration remains tight-lipped. First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun made media appearances, but he only promoted Moon’s recent trip to three Middle East countries. Only three presidential candidates Lee Jae-myung, Yoon Suk-yeol and Ahn Cheol-soo criticized North Korea’s provocations along with the U.S. State Department. Is it possible for the Korea-U.S. alliance to continue under such circumstances?

The administration of Kim Dae-jung, whose philosophy Moon allegedly inherited, was different. At the June 15, 2000 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, President Kim said to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, “The way for the North’s survival is security and economic recovery, and the United States is the only country that can resolve the challenge,” according to “Peace Maker,” written by his aide Lim Dong-won. “North Korean leader Kim must respect the Geneva Agreed Framework between the North and the U.S. to resolve the nuclear issue and successfully conclude the missile negotiation with America to improve relations as soon as possible,” Kim Dae-jung was quoted as saying. “The North must pursue self-reliance with openness, not exclusivism.”

Though the late president was criticized in the South for pushing his “Sunshine Policy” of engaging the North, he said what he needed to say — bluntly to the face of the North Korean leader. What does Moon’s silence mean? Is North Korea a “sacred cow” for his liberal administration?

If Kim Dae-jung had not been determined, the international community would have turned its back on the summit between his government and the North. One day after his return from Pyongyang, Kim telephoned U.S. President Bill Clinton and said that he had stressed to his North Korean counterpart U.S. concerns over nuclear and missile issues. “I told North Korean leader Kim that he must thoroughly respect the Geneva agreement and the joint declaration of denuclearization between the two Koreas,” Kim was quoted as telling Clinton.

According to Kim’s autobiography, Clinton congratulated him for his successful summit and expressed gratitude for raising the nuclear and missile issues. Three days later on June 19, 2000, Washington announced its decision to ease sanctions on North Korea. Following the inter-Korean summit, Clinton had planned to meet with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang to resolve the missile issues. Although the plan never materialized because the timing overlapped with peace talks in the Middle East and the Republican Party won the next presidential election, trust between the American and South Korean leaders was deep.

The Moon administration excluded the opposition party and monopolized North Korea policy. Kim Dae-jung handled things very differently. During the summit in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il asked him why the Grand National Party (GNP) was opposing attempts to improve inter-Korean ties. “Our unification formula was created in 1989, when the GNP was the ruling party, based on a bipartisan consensus. So the party does not fundamentally oppose the improvement of inter-Korean relations,” answered Kim Dae-jung. “And if the GNP wins the next election, its policy direction won’t be much different from ours.”

After the North Korean leader complained that the opposition party was not included in the delegation for the Pyongyang trip, the South Korean president said, “There were many opposition lawmakers who wanted to accompany us. Rep. Park Geun-hye, a daughter of the late President Park Chung Hee, had said she wanted to join, but the party leadership did not approve it. It is a shame.”

When Lim Dong-won, head of the National Intelligence Service, visited the North on an advance team to arrange the inter-Korean summit, Kim Jong-il said, “The opposition GNP attacks the government and lodges protests for the sake of protest. Is this what democracy means?” Lim told Kim Jong-il, “Democracy is about finding harmony in diversity. The opposition party’s role is to point out the government’s shortcomings and prevent any mistakes. Sometimes it goes too far, but I think it’s better to have an opposition party for our country’s advancement.”

The Kim Dae-jung administration concluded that it was impossible for the two Koreas to coexist if there was no unity in the South. But President Moon is different. He invited then-ruling party chairwoman Choo Mi-ae and floor leader Woo Won-sik for dinner at the Panmunjom summit on April 27, 2018, but invited no opposition leaders. Despite that, Moon considered ratifying the declaration from the summit at the National Assembly. Sources said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un also was disappointed at the absence of any opposition leaders in the Panmunjon summit as he prepared for a meeting with then-opposition leader Hong Joon-pyo.

What is the outcome of turning a blind eye to the security threat from North Korean nuclear weapons and excluding opposition parties and ignoring the alliance? Moon faced the North’s labeling of him as a “boiled head of a cow,” a growing distance from an ally and being alone. That’s not all. The Moon administration maintains the worst-ever relationship with Japan, where the United Nations Command’s rear bases are located to support the U.S. Forces Korea in times of emergency.

If Uncle Sam does not pay full attention to managing the Korean Peninsula amid its conflicts with China and Russia in Taiwan and Ukraine, our security will become uncertain. It that acceptable? The next president must speak confidently to North Korea. That is the only way to maintain the alliance with the U.S. and protect national security and South Korean people’s lives.
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