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Freezing out Seoul

Apr 25,2017
U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday had consecutive telephone conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apparently to discuss and coordinate practical ways to cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats. We take special note of the conversations as they took place amid deepening concerns about a possible sixth nuclear test ahead of the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Army. Given the volatile conditions, we can hardly rule out the possibility of Uncle Sam launching a surgical air strike on the North’s nuclear facilities if it crosses the red line by provoking South Korea and its allies with another nuclear test or missile launch.

Of course, American military action against the North is possible only when it is backed by far superior military force and several international conditions such as China’s acquiescence, the U.S. government’s unflinching determination and South Korea’s participation in the lead-up to the decision.

Among those conditions, though, China’s North Korea policy shows tangible signs of change. In an editorial on Saturday, the Global Times, China’s most belligerent state mouthpiece, went so far as to say that China can accept a U.S. air strike on North Korean nuclear facilities and also could cut its oil supplies — but if South Korean and U.S. forces cross the demarcation line to seek a regime change in North Korea, it vowed to retaliate militarily. That’s a significant change in Beijing’s positions as the editorial made clear that Pyongyang’s nuclear development is outside of the North Korea-China Friendship Treaty of 1961.

For its part, the Trump administration is reaffirming its strong determination at home and abroad. Senior officials dealing with diplomatic and security matters in Washington plan to beef up their communications with Congress to seek its understanding on the administration’s new policy toward Pyongyang. The officials are scheduled to brief the entire Senate behind closed doors on Wednesday. In the same context, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday will discuss reinforced pressure and sanctions on the North by directly presiding over a ministerial-level meeting of the UN Security Council members.

However, it is very troubling that Trump did not call his South Korean counterpart. Security experts attribute this to South Korea’s extraordinary political situation in which acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn is orchestrating the next presidential election after former president Park Geun-hye’s ouster.

Nevertheless, South Korea should not be excluded from such critical discussions, particularly since the destiny of our nation could be at stake. The government must first make our position fully reflected in a contingency meeting today of the Six-Party Talks’ three senior representatives from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan in Tokyo.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 25, Page 34