Is Gov't Letting Bygones Be Bygones?

      May 21, 2020 13:16

      The Unification Ministry on Wednesday said 2010 sanctions imposed on North Korea over the torpedo attack against the Navy corvette Cheonan "are virtually no longer in effect" and "no longer pose any obstacle to cross-border exchange and cooperation." South Korea imposed the sanctions on May 24 that year after the torpedo attack killed 46 South Korean sailors. But now, emboldened by its sweeping victory in last month's general election, the Moon Jae-in administration is trying to scrap them as if nothing had happened.

      That would be fine if North Korea had ever admitted the attack and sincerely apologized for it, promising never to let such an atrocity happen again. But it has not. Instead, it has accused South Korea of fabricating the the whole thing. Kim Yong-chol, the current vice chairman of the Workers Party Central Committee, who orchestrated the attack when he helmed the General Bureau of Reconnaissance in 2008, even taunted South Korean visitors back in 2018 by introducing himself as its "mastermind." Perhaps that was an example of the golden North Korean humor literally nobody has ever celebrated. If the government officially drops the sanctions now, has the case been shelved as unsolved forever? Were the 46 sailors killed by aliens from outer space? President Moon Jae-in participated in a ceremony earlier this year honoring South Korean soldiers who died defending the West Sea for the first time since he took office in 2017. But that must have been just a publicity stunt ahead of the general election last month, and now he is showing his true face as an inveterate apologist for North Korean atrocities again.

      In the eyes of this government, sanctions against North Korea are a greater nuisance than the North's nuclear and missile threat. The unification minister has claimed before that the sinking of the Cheonan was "accidental" and criticized the 2010 sanctions as "foolish." But every sanction South Korea has ever taken was caused by the often egregious provocations, ranging from its nuclear weapons and missile programs to the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in North Korea's scenic Mt. Kumgang resort. But for this government, sanctions just get in the way of its pathetic peace overtures to North Korea.

      Then why should North Korea ever stop developing nuclear weapons and firing missiles? Of course it will speed up these efforts now it knows it can get away with them, and become ever more brazen in its provocations. The government believes it can do anything following its sweeping election victory, but that may yet prove a dire miscalculation.

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