January 08, 2020 13:36
President Moon Jae-in delivered a New Year's address on Tuesday to the same old tune, urging North Korea to cooperate in establishing conditions "at an early date" for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to visit South Korea. He also called on the North to re-connect railways and roads severed during the 1950-53 Korean War and to co-host the 2023 Summer Olympics. "Peace has come one step closer," he claimed, since his administration was launched in 2017. Listening to him warble, one might think that the dark clouds of North Korea's nuclear threat have been swept away and eternal peace has dawned.
Unfortunately, the truth is grim. Last year, North Korea conducted 13 missile tests. Some missiles can be fitted with nuclear warheads and are pointed squarely at South Korea. Kim ignited a new missile engine at a test site he had claimed to have shut down and went even further by threatening to unveil a "new strategic weapon." "There is no ground,” Kim added, "for us to [be] unilaterally bound to the commitment" to a denuclearization agreement he signed with the U.S. and South Korea. He has also not merely ignored Moon's overtures since his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi collapsed in February but rudely rebuffed them.
But it was all water off a duck's back. "In a time of deadlock in U.S.-North Korea talks -- and where we are even concerned about a step backward in inter-Korean relations -- we are in desperate need of practical ways to improve inter-Korean cooperation," Moon declared. That was seen as a way of distancing his North Korea policy from progress in denuclearization talks with the U.S. The U.S. was quick to express opposition, but Moon still somehow wants to reopen the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex and resume package tours to the North's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort. The industrial complex was shut down in 2016 following a nuclear test by the North, while the tours to Mt. Kumgang were halted after North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean tourist in 2008.
The president's chief of national security told officials in Washington on Monday that the Moon administration will support an easing of sanctions against North Korea proposed by China and Russia. Moon also voiced his support for eased sanctions during his last meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Can he really be determined to spearhead efforts to destroy the last remaining leverage the world has to get North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons? Just recently the government here backtracked on its decision to scrap an intelligence-sharing pact with its ally Japan, and then only under pressure from the U.S. Is our government ready to handle the fallout from straying from security cooperation with the U.S. in pressuring North Korea?
Of course it is unclear whether North Korea is even interested in Moon's pipe dreams. North Korea's propaganda mouthpiece earlier this month referred to Moon's peace overtures as "ludicrous grumbling" and called him "brazen-faced." Kim made absolutely no mention of South Korea during his marathon speech at a year-end Workers Party Central Committee meeting. Everyone knows how desperate Moon is for a political event to woo voters with just three months left before the general elections. But that does not mean he should try to hypnotize the public by building castles in the air.
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