North Korea fired a ballistic missile again on Monday. It was the communist nation’s ninth missile provocation this year and the third missile launch since President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated.
Nothing seems to hold the North from firing missiles. It passed April without provocations as the US threatened preemptive strikes. Then, signs encouraging its leader Kim Jong-un showed up. The US practically excluded a military option, focusing on economic and diplomatic pressure instead. A new leader who places dialogue before sanctions took office in the South.
Each time the North staged missile tests, the Moon administration repeated that it would deal sternly with them. But that was all. Sterner measures than mere rhetoric were not taken.
Rather, it showed eagerness to get along with the Kim Jong-un regime of the North. After the latest missile launch, an official of the South Korean Ministry of Unification said that it would not change the government position to consider inter-Korean civilian exchanges flexibly.
The North, though, couldn’t care less whatever the South has to offer. The ministry attempts to contact the North authorities through the border village of Panmunjom every day, but has not received any reply yet.
Of course, the problem of North Korean provocations is far from simple, but to deal sternly with them as it vows, the Moon administration should send strong signals it will be able to take tough actions. But it has shown only opposite signs.
Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser for unification, foreign affairs and national security, recently said the South needs to modify its May 24, 2010 sanctions on the North. They were imposed for sinking a South Korean naval ship with a torpedo attack. Visits to the North, inter-Korean trade except with the Kaesong industrial complex, which Kim ordered closed four years later, and new investments in the North were banned.
If the South lifts the sanctions, it would be a windfall for Kim. He would be tempted to use the Moon administration as a shield against international sanctions or a relief valve to ease pressure.
The latest missile test came just three days after the government approved a civic group to contact North Koreans to deliver antimalarial fumigation supplies to them. This shows the Kim regime is going its own way to beef up its nuclear and missile arsenal despite Seoul’s overtures for reconciliation.
President Moon has held a position to push for humanitarian assistance to North Korea regardless of the political situation. Humanitarian aid is a lofty cause, but it needs to be reconsidered if it could help extend or strengthen the tyranny over the North Korean people. It is necessary to draw a line between helping the oppressed and helping the oppressor.
The US State Department on Friday slammed plans by the Moon administration to resume tours to North Korea. It warned tourism revenues could be headed to the North’s nuclear and missile development. The US House of Representatives recently passed a bill to ban American tourists from visiting North Korea.
The international community has intensified sanctions on the communist nation. Concluding a meeting in Italy on the weekend, the leaders of the Group of Seven member countries urged the North to immediately and fully comply with UN resolutions and abandon all nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Aid was not mentioned at all.
Like pressure on the North, humanitarian assistance should be made within the framework of sanctions and the US-Korea alliance. A united message will tell Kim clearly what he should do.
The North’s frequent missile tests despite the South’s appeasement stance indicate that its relations with the South are one thing and its nukes and missiles are another. This means appeasement has its limits when it comes to the Kim regime. That’s why the Moon administration should show clear signs that it will not only keep offering humanitarian assistance but also put pressure on the North over its provocations.