South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said during a National Assembly session Wednesday that the West Sea Defense Day was a memorial day for unfortunate inter-Korean “clashes.” When asked by opposition lawmakers if the tragic accident was “provocations or clashes,” he later corrected his remark, saying “clashes caused by North Korea’s provocations.” The West Sea Defense Day was designated as a national memorial day in 2016 to remember the 55 South Korean soldiers killed during the North’s three major provocations in the waters off the west coast – the torpedo attack on the naval ship Cheonan, the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and the Second Yeonpyeong naval battle – and to solidify the South’s security determination. When the defense chief, who must have known the purpose of the day, made the remarks, many people could not believe their ears.
Jeong’s mention of “unfortunate clashes” implied that the two Koreas were both responsible, and such a remark is an insult to those who were killed during the North Korean provocations. Jeong also caused controversies in January when he appeared on a television talk show. Asked if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should apologize to South Koreans for the North’s attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island, Jeong said that South Korea should “go forward” to improve the inter-Korean relations. The defense chief, who was responsible for leading the South Korean troops and defending the nation’s territory and people’s safety, seems completely forget his duty while just trying not to stimulate the North.
Jeong also criticized retired generals who call for the abolition of the September 19, 2019 inter-Korean military agreement, claiming that the generals “made such an argument based on incorrect knowledge and ideology.” It is preposterous that the defense minister disparaged the retired generals’ demand as being based on “incorrect knowledge.” At the same time, the minister’s logic was close to absurdity. Among what was agreed militarily as part of the September 19, 2019 joint declaration, the North’s demand of designating no-flight zones along the demilitarized zones has been mostly realized so far. Although the North maintains its coastal guns and negate the Northern Limit Line, the South has never lodged any proper complaint. The retired generals pointed out such problems, but the defense minister did nothing but making divisive remarks.
Today is the West Sea Defense Day. President Moon Jae-in reportedly has no plan to attend a ceremony marking the day for the second consecutive year. It is truly deplorable that he clings to making progress in the inter-Korean relations at a time when tensions surrounding the Korean Peninsula are escalating, and the defense minister is simply following the president’s intention.