While North Korea cut off all communications with South Korea in a fight over propaganda leaflets and is threatening to take further actions, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea is still blaming North Korean refugees. The South Korean Ministry of Unification sued two North Korea defector groups for violating the act on inter-Korean exchange and cooperation on Wednesday and took steps to nullify the status of corporation. The ruling party’s floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon put the shut down to the illegal distribution of propaganda leaflets on the same day. “The law that bans distributing of leaflets will soon be finalized,” he said. He has practically joined the Ministry of Unification in following North Korean First Deputy Director Kim Yo Jong’s request.
The North cited the distribution of propaganda leaflets as a reason for halting all communication lines. To be sure, the leaflets that described North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a hypocrite are responsible for the recent development to some extent. However, this cannot justify the government’s decision to enact a law to stop the defectors without even trying to talk them out of sending leaflets. It is an act of violating human rights that goes against the stance of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which says North Korean people have the right to know about the outside world.
The shut down presents an obstacle to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to improve inter-Korean relations. However, hurriedly giving everything Pyongyang wants will only distort the relations. What North Korea wants is to pressure the South to get attention from U.S. President Donald Trump who is fixated on the presidential election, and it is creating tension over leaflets to get what it wants. This is why providing it with what it asks for will not improve the relations between the South and the North.
The government and the ruling party’s laying low will only make Pyongyang ignore Seoul. Putting the South Korea-U.S. alliance and domestic conflicts on the back burner will create a vicious circle North Korea can exploit as opposed to the virtuous circle President Moon wants where improvement in inter-Korean relations lead to improvement in relations between the United States and North Korea and vice versa. It is high time for Seoul to take stock on its approach to Pyongyang-related issues.