During a meeting with senior presidential aides Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for a cool-headed approach to Japan’s economic retaliatory measures and encouraged to deal with the situation from a long-term perspective. But he did not mention anything about North Korea’s recent missile launch. When asked about the blunt remarks made by North Korean Foreign Ministry that criticized the joint military exercise between South Korean and the U.S., a Cheong Wa Dae official said it is inappropriate to respond to every word and nuance of North Korea’s remarks adding that the North will express its willingness to have working-level talks with the U.S. once the joint military exercise is over.
Moon has not mentioned anything about the five provocations made by North Korea since late last month, nor did he convene a single National Security Council (NSC) meeting. It has been either National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong or a ministerial meeting that reacted to North Korea’s provocations. The more provocative the North has become, the more passive response the South Korean government has shown.
Cheong Wa Dae expressed a “strong concern” over North Korea’s provocation on July 25 at a regular NSC meeting. Later on July 31, it convened an emergency meeting of the NSC standing committee and stressed the importance of military readiness. But North Korea did not stop making provocations. Cheong Wa Dae held ministerial meetings to discuss North Korea’s three missile launches in August. It even discussed North Korea’s latest missile launch on Saturday through a video conference.
It appears Cheong Wa Dae is concerned about creating a vicious cycle of further provocations from the North and stronger countermeasures from the South once it reacts sensitively to North Korea’s provocations. Refraining from reacting to North Korea’s provocations, however, will only make it more arrogant and bad-tempered. Seoul’s failure to make a stern warning against Pyongyang has invited the recent rogue comments and ridicule made against South Korea. Under this circumstance, Cheong Wa Dae seems to be satisfied that the North is still willing to talk with the U.S.
The Korean Peninsula was at the brink of war two years ago, when the U.S. reacted strongly to North Korea’s nuclear and missile launches. But it was those firm actions and tightened sanctions that brought North Korea to the negotiating table. Furthermore, what North Korea fired recently was short-range missiles that can hit South Korea. Seoul’s failure to making a warning against the North’s provocations not only hurt national pride but also made North Korea’s provocations business as usual. The U.S. only cares about increasing South Korea’s share of military costs.
The Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and relevant agencies are cautious to make any comments or actions regarding North Korea because of Cheong Wa Dae. But what the National Security Office only cares about is appeasing North Korea. On the other hand, Cheong Wa Dae is consistently taking strong actions against Japan when it should restrain itself. It is questionable if the Moon Jae-in administration is functioning normally in terms of diplomacy and national security.