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[Editorial] Hold Firm Against N. Korea’s Threat

Posted April. 20, 2009 07:48,   


To prevent South Korea from fully joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, North Korea offered last week to hold inter-Korean talks on a joint industrial complex in Kaesong and revved up its bellicose rhetoric against South Korea Saturday. The communist country, which has detained a Hyundai Asan employee for 22 days, is now threatening military action against Seoul. Given the North’s full offensive by combining the fate of the complex with the initiative, the possibility of Pyongyang acting on its threat cannot be ruled out. As such, South Korea must recognize the gravity of the situation and respond resolutely. By mobilizing its full capabilities in contingency management and responses, Seoul must prevent the Korean Peninsula from plunging into chaos by the North’s provocation.

When the North made the proposal to hold talks Thursday, it chose Tuesday as the date. Pyongyang chose the date after Seoul delayed full participation in the initiative to Sunday from the originally scheduled date of April 15. After the North’s offer, Seoul once again postponed its participation after the inter-Korean talks, though it denied the postponement had anything to do with the talks. Seoul was being manipulated by Pyongyang, which saw right through the South’s move.

The two Koreas will meet in Kaesong, but it’s not clear whether their talks result in the release of the detained employee. By detaining a South Korean, the North violated an inter-Korean agreement that guarantees the basic rights of employees in the joint complex. Furthermore, it has ignored the international practice of guaranteeing a detainee his or her right to make contact by refusing to accept South Korea’s request to gain access to the employee. Pyongyang, however, allowed the United States to talk to two American journalists through the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang. The detention of the Hyundai Asan employee clearly demonstrates that the North’s slogan “Koreans Together” is empty rhetoric. The North is likely to turn the inter-Korean talks into a propagandistic event.

The delegation led by the South Korea’s Unification Ministry must speak out against the North’s inhumane act and urge prompt release of the detainee. The delegation should also flatly reject the North’s attempt to link the humanitarian issue to either the initiative or the complex.

Since the communist country denied the border crossing of South Korean officials in March last year, it has continuously used the industrial complex to get its way in inter-Korean relations. If the North continues to stick to its hostile stance, the South needs to declare its intention to shut down the complex. If the complex damages South Korean companies and endangers South Korean citizens, it should be shut down.

Seoul has delayed its full participation in the initiative twice apparently so it does not further provoke Pyongyang. If the North continues to threaten the South, however, Seoul cannot continue to back off. What should not be repeated is the practice of previous left-leaning governments to earn nothing in exchange for giving everything to the North. North Korea must know that the Lee Myung-bak administration is different from previous governments.