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Pyongyang is testing our patience

May 14,2019
North Korea’s state mouthpiece condemned South Korea’s offer of humanitarian aid, splashing cold water on Seoul’s painstaking endeavors to save the mood of dialogue regardless of Pyongyang’s renewed military provocations. Arirang Meari — a state media outlet in Pyongyang — said that Seoul was raising hoopla over humanitarian aid, as if it is a sign of improved relations with North Korea. It even called the offer “humbug” and “deceptive and uncivil.” It accused Seoul of trying to feign as if it were living up to the Pyongyang military joint declaration with “trivial counts of goods trading or human exchange” and “disgracing the goals and hope of the people through vain words and showy behaviors.”

These harsh words raise questions about whether the North seriously needs food aid. In February, North Korea sought international food aid worth 1.48 million tons amid a shortage of rice. The government was pushing for the aid in spite of skepticism at home and the United States over hopes for a breakthrough in the deadlock in Korean Peninsula affairs. Pyongyang has put Seoul in an awkward position through its hostile rhetoric.

Pyongyang has demeaned the Seoul government’s generosity as “trivial” and “showy,” which discredits the South Korean people, as well as the government. Seoul has been patient thus far, despite the fact that it was accused of being “officious” with its offer of mediation between Washington and Pyongyang. Its pride may have only fanned the ego and audacity of the Pyongyang regime.

North Korea has been strategically raising tensions in the region since the United States-North summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. It fired off multiple projectiles that are believed to be short-range missiles and renewed its saber-rattling. It has been exploiting the friendliness of the Moon Jae-in administration to undermine the alliance between Seoul and Washington, as well as international sanctions. Another state mouthpiece called on Seoul to decide on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex — a symbol of inter-Korean economic exchanges — because “it should not be an issue for Washington to authorize.”

So far, Seoul and Washington have been calm and restrained as they respond to Pyongyang’s provocations. U.S. President Donald Trump did not refer to the missiles North Korea fired as “ballistic,” which would have been violations of United Nations resolutions. He said North Korea did not break mutual trust. Seoul and Washington have stayed patient in order to not harm dialogue. President Moon called Trump to gain understanding of Seoul’s food aid. Yet if Pyongyang keeps up its provocations and crosses the red line, South Korea and the United States will not have other options: North Korea must stop testing our patience.