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Defense minister’s firm resolve

Posted December. 23, 2010 10:44,   


On Tuesday, when South Korean forces held another firing drill on Yeonpyeong Island, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin held out his hand with a stern look when President Lee Myung-bak extended his hand for a handshake to compliment Kim’s effort at a Cabinet meeting. Kim also maintained the same look at a meeting of the parliamentary defense committee when members encouraged him, but his eyes were bright with firm determination. He might not have given a big smile though he passed his first two weeks in office. The South Korean people also feel hesitant in simply complimenting the minister and their military because the South can be taken aback again by the North’s sudden provocations.

On Monday, the day when the artillery drill was conducted, the South was put on its highest alert since the Korean War. South Koreans paid attention to TV and radio reports for fear of a contingency. When news that the drill began at 2:30 p.m. broke, all eyes turned to Yeonpyeong. South Koreans were jittery when the drill ended at 4:04 p.m. because of how the North might react. As Pyongyang later said that it will not respond to every occasion, they felt relieved but were on edge again due to the lighting of a Christmas tree near the inter-Korean border.

North Korea’s failure to carry out its retaliatory threat does not mean that it has stopped provocations. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who returned from the North after a six-day visit, said Pyongyang showed a willingness to return to dialogue. A common North Korean tactic, however, is to pull back when at a disadvantage and commit a provocation when the South is off guard. The South Korean defense minister and military might face severe tests whenever the North launches another provocation. In this sense, Seoul must further solidify its resolve.

Artillery drills in a country’s territorial waters is a sovereign right. Russia and China should not have criticized the drill. Had the North been penalized every time it launched a provocation, it would not have attacked Yeonpyeong. Fears over war have gripped South Korea. When a country risks waging war, it can also prevent it. Defense Minister Kim said, “Punishing provocations is a matter of justice.” All Koreans on the Korean Peninsula have the duty to stand up to the injustice of the Kim Jong Il government that threatens the freedom and peace of South Korea and turned all North Koreans into slaves.

Editorial Writer Yook Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)