The crisis caused by North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats is weighing heavily on many aspects of South Koreans’ lives. A bigger cause for concern is that they may have to brace themselves for a worse situation.
The episode of a septuagenarian who withdrew 100 million won ($88,000) from his bank account, reportedly because he was worried that he would not be able to do so in the event of war, shows how the crisis is affecting the psyche of South Koreans. It was fortunate that the man who had lost the money on his way home was able to recover it.
Still, there is no panic and few stockpile daily necessities in preparation for a war, but there certainly is a higher level of apprehensiveness than ever before. One can feel its impact everywhere, including the business sector.
Some South Korean firms like Lotte and Hyundai Motor have already fallen victim to China’s retaliation against South Korea’s decision to host a US missile shield system.
The travel industry, which has been struggling with the Chinese government’s ban on group tours to South Korea, is facing further difficulties, with escalating tension between North Korea and the US keeping more tourists out of the country.
Some countries, like France, even floated the idea of staying away from the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. Korean officials played down the crisis’ impact on the Olympics and France reaffirmed its commitment to come to PyeongChang, but it should be a reminder of how sensitively people outside the peninsula are reacting to the current situation.
A worse turn of events would certainly impact the national economy.
The crisis has already raised the nation’s credit default risk to a 19-month high on rising tension over North Korea’s weapons programs.
All these call for the Seoul government to make proactive efforts to manage the situation, reduce volatility, protect peace and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Most of all, the Moon Jae-in administration ought to maintain an infallible alliance with the US. The government’s utmost duty is to protect the properties and lives of the people. A military conflict between the North and the US could easily spread to the South or a desperate North could attack the South. A strong South Korea-US alliance is the only way to deter or subdue the North in the worst-case scenario.
The military alliance cannot stand firm without a wider consensus on how to deal with the North Korea. Some recent developments worry us in that regard.
Moon Chung-in, a special adviser to the president, said that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed displeasure and protested to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha over Seoul’s push for inter-Korean military talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also expressed opposition to the Moon administration’s decision to set aside $8 million in humanitarian aid for the North.
Indeed, such moves by Seoul run counter to the US and international community’s endeavors to toughen sanctions against the North.
In its latest action, the US added 10 North Korean banks and 26 individuals to its blacklist, freezing their property and interests within US territory or in Americans’ possession.
It is not entirely wrong for President Moon Jae-in to emphasize the importance of inducing the North to dialogue, but repeating what our allies may regard only as appeasement could impede the formation of a united front.
President Moon needs to keep close communication with US President Donald Trump, who does not go a single day without making aggressive remarks about the North, to -- as he repeatedly says -- prevent war on the peninsula and get the situation under control.
Moon also could be more proactive in seeking the help of China and Russia to keep the North from further escalating tension. The proposal to send an envoy to the North also deserves consideration. Moon cannot contain the North Korean risks and resolve the crisis if he continues only praying for peace and does not act.