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Government Under Fire After ICBM Test

Posted July. 07, 2006 03:28,   


The Korean government is being criticized for its handling of North Korea’s large-scale missile test. Critics point out that the government is overemphasizing “careful response” and obsessed with seeking “solutions only through dialogue.”

The government had argued even before the missile test that a calm response is the most effective way to deal with the North Korean problem and refused to put pressure on the North, only to be caught off guard by the missile launch. Nevertheless, it is pushing ahead with its plan to hold an inter-Korean ministerial meeting, drawing criticism that the government is going against the flow even in its North Korea policy.

At a ministers’ meeting on security issues called by President Roh Moo-hyun on Wednesday, the government announced that pressuring the North and escalating tension will not help solve the problem, adding that we should induce North Korea to engage in a dialogue. The government’s policy is that while protesting and stopping rice and fertilizer assistance to the North, the South will maintain the current inter-Korean relations.

However, many government officials worry that such a policy stance may prevent South Korea from taking the lead in the situation only to be manipulated by the North.

Already, those worries are becoming reality. Yesterday, North Korea’s foreign ministry’s spokesperson claimed that the missile launch was a part of a normal military exercise and expressed the country’s will to continue missile tests.

Meanwhile, there are many who take issue with South Korean government’s decision to hold the 19th inter-Korean ministerial meeting as scheduled from July 11 to 14, as has been decided through the ministers’ meeting on security issues.

They argue that the meeting will clearly have little effect on preventing recurrence of missile crisis. If the government goes ahead and holds the meeting, it can cause mistrust on the country both at home and abroad, including the U.S. and Japan.

“If the ministerial talks are pursued as planned, the South Korean public will doubt the government’s decision while the U.S. and Japan will think South Korea is on North Korea’s side,” said Professor Kim Young-soo of Sogang University.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-suk had warned before the test fire that if North Korea does conduct a missile test, it would not be given rice or fertilizer, which North Korea ignored.

Many experts on North Korea predict that North Korea will not budge an inch even at South Korea’s protest in the ministerial meeting, saying, “We have no intention to fire against the South. Do not interfere with our domestic affair.” Furthermore, the current tension surrounding North Korea makes it impossible for the South to appease the North with assistance deals. No carrot or stick will work now, thus no use in holding a meeting with the North.

Meanwhile, President Roh Moo-hyun is not making any public comments on North Korea’s missile test.

He is showing a different attitude from May when he visited Mongolia and promised “unconditional institutional and material aid to the North” and April when he strongly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine.

The South Korean government’s position is that there is no problem since Seo Ju-seok, the chief presidential aide on security matters, announced the government’s response and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon held a media briefing for Korean and foreign journalists.

The government says that President Roh’s personal protest on North Korea’s missile test can cause serious resistance from the North.

In this regard, in the Cheong Wa Dae Briefing yesterday, Seo opposed to President Roh’s stepping forward saying whether the President personally expresses strong position or not will not affect South Korea’s response capability.

The dominant opinion is that the current administration’s policy to maintain the status quo on inter-Korean relations is hurting President Roh’s political ground.

Myoung-Gun Lee Dong-Yong Min gun43@donga.com mindy@donga.com