As long as three days after a South Korean public servant at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries went missing in the West Sea to end up being cruelly killed by North Korean soldiers, the South Korean government made a belated official announcement on this unprecedentedly horrendous incident. Reportedly, there was a time gap of 34 hours between his disappearance and death. Six hours after the missing South Korean man was detected by the North, he was shot and burned to death. Even with such a severe emergency being kept track of, the South Korean military did not show any response. More shockingly, the South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae wasted as long as one and a half days or 36 hours holding off on officially responding to the appalling killing after it received a brief on the news. Also, it was reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in was told of the killing of the South Korean public servant as many as 10 hours after it happened.
The way that the South Korean government and military have responded to the incident asks us a very fundamental question: What are a nation’s roles and responsibilities? Asked if the government has been derelict in its principal duty of safeguarding its citizens’ life and safety, what would be its answer? The government said, “We had to check if it was true because it was almost high-level military intelligence,” adding, “It is inconceivable that North Korea committed such an atrocious crime.” Having said that, all it did about the situation was dispatch police and military forces for search operations right after he went missing and send the North a telephone message to merely make an inquiry as long as 19 hours after he was atrociously murdered.
It is no different than sitting on its hands. Suspicion on such irresponsible government response makes everyone automatically wonder what President Moon did. It was reported that he spent a night having no idea about an emergency issue that was serious enough for ministers to attend a late-night meeting on short notice. Even after he was briefed on the matter, Moon enjoyed watching a cultural performance as if nothing ever happened. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that the opposition side calls on the president to detail what he did that night, comparing his situation with the seven-hour mystery of former President Park Geun-hye in the aftermath of the sinking of the Sewol. It even casts doubt that he attempts to step away from controversy by claiming that he did not have any clue about the incident.
Such an irresponsible complacency across the South Korean government may not be irrelevant to the wild guess on an attempt to defect that it made when the news was released to the public. Revealing the as-yet unsubstantiated intelligence seemingly intended to minimize the graveness of a South Korean civilian's awful death and avoid being held accountable for its failure in responding properly. Even if it turns out true, the Republic of Korea is never the same as the North Korean regime that despises defectors as betrayers. Also, it does not make any difference in the significance of the South Korean government’s duty to protect its citizens.
The atrocious incident is yet another reminder of the brutality and savagery of Kim Jong Un’s regime. Even if President Moon, his administration and military leaders had responded properly and done their job to protect his life, they could not have kept it from happening. However, what our nation could have shown can be of consolation to us in a time of shock and dismay.