The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Self-caused predicament

Moon’s preoccupation with peace agenda risks undermining Seoul’s defense posture

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 12, 2021 - 05:30

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North Korea has slammed South Korea and the US for going ahead with their joint military exercise set to kick off next week.

In her statement issued Tuesday, Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s influential sister, described the allies’ combined drill as an act of self-destruction, for which a dear price should be paid. She appeared to threaten that the North would return to provocations.

Pyongyang’s reaction may well disappoint President Moon Jae-in’s administration, which has sought to placate the recalcitrant regime by persuading Washington to reduce the scale and duration of the annual summertime exercise.

Kim’s statement went further to demand that US forces should be pulled out of the South.

“For peace to settle on the peninsula, it is imperative for the US to withdraw its aggression troops and war hardware deployed in South Korea,” it said.

What draws attention is that China has gone out of its way to join the North in calling for the scrapping of the South Korea-US joint drill. At a videoconference of a regional security forum Friday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the upcoming exercise was not constructive and urged Washington to avoid any action that would heighten tension with the North.

The following day, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry posted Wang’s remarks on its homepage.

In a move seen as extending a broader support to the North, a Chinese Communist Party organ Tuesday carried an editorial highlighting the solidarity between Beijing and Pyongyang on its front page.

Moon has tried to pursue his peace agenda for the peninsula, inviting criticism that he is pandering to Pyongyang while turning his eyes away from threats by the rogue regime possessing nuclear arms.

The Moon administration has also been criticized for being too reticent about Beijing’s high-handed attitude toward Seoul.

Moon still seems to hope that he will hold yet another summit with North Korean leader Kim before his five-year tenure ends in May to revive the reconciliatory mood forged between the two Koreas through three rounds of such meetings in 2018. Some lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea have said that Moon may be able to meet with Kim on the occasion of the Beijing Winter Olympics to be held in February.

The recent pressure from the North and China can be seen as indicating that Moon’s preoccupation with his elusive peace agenda risks being exploited to undermine South Korea’s security posture.

The North is expected to continue to call for the withdrawal of US troops from the South, beyond demands that the allies do away with their annual exercises, which have already been reduced to computer-simulated war games.

At a news conference in 2019, Moon said it was the North Korean leader’s understanding that Seoul and Washington should decide on a US military presence on the peninsula after a peace accord is reached.

He remains mum on Tuesday’s statement from Pyongyang. His critics now worry that Moon may go so far as to be open to discussing the issue of US troop withdrawal with the North.

Moon and his aides should draw a clear line with regard to what Pyongyang could expect from Seoul to avoid being further swayed by the recalcitrant regime.

The top Chinese diplomat’s remarks on the allies’ joint military exercise can be seen as tantamount to an improper interference in another nation’s internal affairs. Moreover, China is in no position to take issue with the upcoming combined drill by South Korea and the US, as it has been conducting a massive exercise with Russia, mobilizing about 10,000 troops from the two sides this week in one of its training fields.

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, who delivered his remarks after Wang at the security forum, made no mention of what his Chinese counterpart had just said.

A day later, an official at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry defended Chung’s reticence, citing the circumstance of the meeting taking place online. The explanation sounded far from sensible. Chung should immediately have raised issue with Wang’s inappropriate comments.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the importance of trilateral cooperation with South Korea in achieving the denuclearization of the peninsula during a meeting with Japanese National Security Adviser Takeo Akiba on Monday.

Enhancing the three-way security cooperation together with strengthening the joint defense posture with the US could be an effective way to place South Korea on a stronger footing against Pyongyang and Beijing getting closer to each other.