March 20, 2012 14:19
As South Korea holds general and presidential elections in the same year for the first time in two decades, people in the South are worried about two things. The first is a potential vacuum in national security and the second is politicians bleeding state coffers dry as they race to announce one populist welfare program after another to woo voters.
Perhaps by coincidence, North Korea announced on Friday that it will launch a rocket next month to mark the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung on April 15. North Korea has repeatedly tried to pass off long-range missile tests as rocket launches to put a satellite in orbit. But even China, which so often sides with North Korea, summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and expressed "concern."
The U.S. has condemned the launch as a provocation and said it would violate an agreement reached between Washington and Pyongyang only on Feb. 29 and threatened to scrap planned food aid to the North. China is unwilling to buy North Korea's excuse this time and is worried that Pyongyang will repeat the patterns of 2006 and 2009, where missile launches were followed by nuclear tests.
The South Korean foreign and defense ministers met with President Lee Myung-bak on Monday and agreed that the rocket launch would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which prohibits Pyongyang from launching any intercontinental ballistic missile.
But there has been nothing but silence from senior politicians here like ruling Saenuri Party's Park Geun-hye and main opposition Democratic United Party's Han Myeong-sook. The only response has been a statement issued by the Saenuri Party spokesman and DUP lawmaker Park Jie-won urging North Korea to "scrap the launch plan."
The reason why politicians are treading so gingerly on the issue is that they are scared of the impact their comments could have on voters just 20 days or so before the crucial general elections. But what will the public think of this calculated response when the country's security is at risk?
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