Conciliatory Babble Only Encourages N.Korea to Misbehave

      September 16, 2019 13:05

      President Moon Jae-in said in a TV interview on Friday, "It's wrong that the two Koreas have failed to ease the pain of families separated [during the Korean War] and denying them the chance to meet for such a long time." Moon added, "This need was shared during my meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and we announced that reunion events will continue, but it is unfortunate to see a lack of rapid progress." That is all well and good, but the only reason why the reunions failed to become a fixture is that North Korea uses them as bargaining chips in negotiations with South Korea. Yet the president is saying that South Korea should share the blame.

      Even when cross-border tensions ran high, the government tried hard to continue the reunions on humanitarian grounds. Four such reunions took place even during the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations, who took a much harder line on the North. South Korea is ready to resume them immediately the moment the North gives the green light. But North Korea, moved by no humanitarian considerations, allowed sporadic reunions every time the South Korean government made some concession, only to halt them immediately if Pyongyang was miffed by something. It halted them after Seoul stopped rice and fertilizer aid after the North's first nuclear test in 2006, and unilaterally scrapped them in 2013 just three days before the scheduled date blaming U.S.-South Korean joint military drills, which had been going on for decades and cannot have come as the slightest surprise. It also canceled reunions by video-conferences only two years after they began.

      Even after Moon came into office with an explicit agenda of being as nice as possible to North Korea, Pyongyang kept behaving in this deranged manner by linking the defections of some North Korean waitresses in China to the reunions, in flagrant violation of agreements with South Korea. But no, Moon says South Korea must take part of the blame. What exactly does he think Seoul has done wrong? Not bend to every insane demand from the North?

      It may of course have been nothing but conciliatory blather. "Mistakes were made on both sides" is a classic negotiation opener, even when it is perfectly obvious that they were made by only one. But it seems totally misplaced here. Moon is so desperate for another photo op with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he will say anything, even though he must know that it only encourages the North to behave badly, and that it despises him all the more for it. How much longer must we endure the monumental diplomatic incompetence of this government?

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