In a statement issued Wednesday, the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae condemned North Korea's First Vice Department Director of the Workers' Party Central Committee Kim Yo Jong’s “rude and senseless” denunciation about President Moon Jae-in and warned that it will not tolerate such unreasonable acts and remarks anymore. The statement was aimed at Kim Yo Jong, who called President Moon’s speech marking the 20th anniversary of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration “shameless sophism” and “excuses and tricks.” Cheong Wa Dae raised the level of criticism against North Korea, probably the harshest since President Moon took office, and the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Unification condemned their North Korean counterparts in response.
After blowing up the inter-Korean Liaison Office, North Korea announced Tuesday that it will redeploy troops to the Mount Kumgang tourist region and resume military drills in the West Sea, practically threatening to nullify the Sept. 19 inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement. The tirade against South Korea made by Kim Yo Jong the other day revealed such intention. Kim Jong Un’s sister criticized the Moon Jae-in administration for putting its alliance with the U.S. before the inter-Korean agreement for the past two years and for failing to break the grip of sanctions imposed on North Korea. There was not a single word on denuclearization. The gist of the statement was to stand by the North’s side without expecting denuclearization.
It is high time that the South Korean government review its policy toward North Korea. The Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korea policy is built upon Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearization. Seoul persuaded Washington to start talks with Pyongyang based on the commitment. The U.S., however, decided that North Korea was not ready to discuss denuclearization and continued imposing sanctions against North Korea after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit last year.
The Moon Jae-in administration should change its officials in diplomacy and security, who have been making incorrect circumstantial judgement and setting wrong directions. Although North Korea has employed a hardline strategy on South Korea since last year, South Korea’s diplomatic and security officials have clung to groundless optimism, failing to respond to North Korea’s provocations as a result. South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul stepped down Wednesday but Cheong Wa Dae’s national security office cannot be let off the hook. The office is currently composed of members with backgrounds in trade and diplomacy, but not in North Korea’s nuclear issues. It has long been pointed out that they have revealed their lack of competence by making wrong judgements in major diplomatic and security issues. There is a saying that a commander should not be replaced during a war but if a commander cannot do his job, he should readily be replaced.
Some in the Moon administration say Seoul should seek to talk with Kim Jong Un since the recent provocation is led by his sister. But the North’s new hardline stance, which appears to be carefully planned in advance, is not likely to take a new turn in a short time. Unless Kim Jong Un decides to denuclearize, a one-off summit would eventually end up producing the same results as before. Additional provocations are likely to occur as the personal plane of Kim Jong Un made a rare flight to the eastern part of the country. North Korea is no different from a train speeding without brakes. It is showing no willingness to denuclearize. Now is the time to reestablish our strategy towards North Korea with a determined goal of denuclearizing North Korea.