North Korea continues to turn a cold shoulder to a series of rapprochement overtures by the administration of President Moon Jae-in, who was elected with a pledge to achieve reconciliation and peace on the Korean Peninsula. The North’s attitude calls on Moon and his aides to be patient and rethink their strategy.
Patience and rethinking are necessary mainly because North Korea has consistently ignored all the olive branches held out by Moon since he took office in early May – offers of humanitarian aid, an invitation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and most recently, proposals for military and Red Cross talks.
The proposals for military talks for halting hostile activities like propaganda broadcasts across the border and Red Cross talks for family reunions came in line with Moon’s reconciliatory initiative he outlined during a visit to Berlin, Germany, early this month.
The two recent proposals only disclosed Moon’s impatience to quickly follow up on his Berlin initiative and more importantly, his lack of strategy.
The Defense Ministry made the proposal for inter-Korean military talks July 17, setting July 21 as the date for the first meeting. The date passed with the northern side remaining silent on the proposal.
Now Seoul officials say that they would wait until this Thursday, the anniversary of signing the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Moon had said that he wanted the military talks to agree to end border propaganda broadcasts on the anniversary.
But it is unlikely that the North will mention the proposal itself -- let alone make a positive response -- by Moon’s deadline. The Moon administration is soliciting its own humiliation by setting dates for talks without knowing whether the other side would come to the table or not.
The proposal to hold Red Cross talks Aug. 1 also reflects the Moon administration’s impatience. Moon said he wanted the two Koreas to organize reunions of separated families on the Chuseok holiday, which falls on Oct. 4 this year. The North has not made any response to that proposal either.
All this shows that the Moon administration -- unlike previous South Korean governments -- is only courting a partnership without laying ground for positive environment for the North’s agreement.
In the past -- under conservative and liberal governments alike -- the South Korean side used to use “informal channels” with the North to set up new talks or find breakthroughs in inter-Korean affairs. It seems that the Moon administration lacks any such channel for now.
Another big problem with the Moon administration’s obsession with dialogue with the North is that it runs counter to the international community’s moves to add pressure on the Pyongyang regime over its nuclear and missile provocations.
Last week alone, there were several new actions taken against the Pyongyang regime over its recent missile provocations.
A Japanese newspaper reported that the US had told China about its plans to sanction about 10 Chinese firms and individuals engaged in the exports of North Korean coal and labor.
The US Senate passed a bill to restrict North Korea’s overseas financial transactions and oppose the reopening of the inter-Korean industrial park in Kaesong. Separately, the US Congress will act on a package of bills sanctioning North Korea, Russia and Iran on Tuesday.
The US government announced travel ban to North Korea in the wake of the death of an American college student who had been caught in coma while detained in North Korea.
These news stories were accompanied by other articles raising the possibility of North Korea testing another ballistic missile or a new submarine-launched ballistic missile within two weeks. All in all, the North is not interested in opening dialogue with the South.
Diplomatic negotiation could and should be the most viable means to resolve the North Korean crisis, but the current situation tells us that the Seoul government needs a more prudent and wiser approach than merely soliciting the North to come to the negotiating table.