Now with the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit three weeks away, North Korea is issuing a series of condemnations against South Korea day after day. On Saturday, a spokesman for North Korea’s Red Cross Society called for the release of North Korean defectors that it claims have been lured and kidnapped by South Korea, indicating the group of 12 female restaurant workers and their male manager who have defected to the South in April last year. Before bringing up the long-pending issue, Pyongyang had abruptly cancelled a high-level inter-Korean talk scheduled for Wednesday and had not accepted the list of South Korean reporters who would be covering the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
Moreover, Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s state-controlled website, again made issues of former North Korean diplomat who served as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, Thae Yong-ho, as well as leaflets to the North over the weekend. Such an act is hardly different from the country’s past behaviors that it pointed the finger at the South whenever it had complaints or demands for Washington. In this sense, the latest set of Pyongyang’s behaviors seems to be intended to exert pressure on Seoul. Faced with the hard line of the Trump administration on the scope and speed of complete denuclearization, security assurances and lifting of sanctions, North Korea is apparently threatening the South to persuade the United States, using the inter-Korean relations as a pawn for its own interest.
The hermit kingdom’s hidden intention is also well reflected in 38 North’s recent reports that preparations to build a safe reviewing stand for visitors to observe the explosive closure of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Pyongyang must have taken into consideration the possibility that if the Moon Jae-in administration, focused on improving the inter-Korean ties, takes the role of a mediator and demands that the United States lower the bar in future negotiations, it may lead to a crack in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. It is highly likely that the North will repeat such acts even if the Trump-Kim summit proves a success and dismantling activities get started.
Under the circumstances, South Korea must counter the North with a principled response based on the solid alliance with the United States. Following a 20-minute phone conversation Sunday, President Moon is set to leave for Washington Sunday to have a one-on-one meeting with Trump Tuesday. At the summit, the two leaders should not only share the results of the April 27th inter-Korean summit but also send a clear message to North Korea that its old tactics to shake things up no longer works. In addition, the summit should serve as a chance to make diplomatic efforts to bring China back to the line of countries calling for strong sanctions on North Korea. South Korea is neither a referee nor a mediator in a tug of war between Pyongyang and Washington. Working in airtight coordination with the United States, South Korea should pull the North to the negotiating table in Singapore.