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Korea voiceless on Pyongyang

May 27,2017
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Recently, a Japanese reporter I am acquainted with called me and pressed, “Is Korea joining hands with China at the United Nations? It is disconcerting that yesterday’s friend is suddenly an enemy today.” He was referring to the UN Security Council emergency meeting on May 23. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Japan proposed additional sanctions over North Korea’s ballistic missile launch. But China opposed them and claimed that the situation should be resolved through talks.

What misled the Japanese reporter was Korea’s attitude. For every North Korean provocation, small and large, Korea would hold a joint press conference with U.S. and Japanese ambassadors and demand strong sanctions. But that day, representatives of the Korean mission were not in sight and remained silent. Some questioned that the new administration may prioritize talks over sanctions, and the Korean representatives may be keeping a low profile.

When I inquired with the Korean Mission, they explained that the ultimate goal of the Korean government, in the past and current administrations, has always been the denuclearization of North Korea, and there was never a directive not to respond. They are doing their best to faithfully implement sanctions decided by the UN Security Council.

In fact, the Permanent Mission of the Republic Korea to the United Nations has a rather embarrassing history. Ambassador Kim Hyun-jong was appointed at the end of the Roh Moo-hyun administration. He didn’t last six months and was replaced in the Lee Myung-bak administration. Current ambassador Cho Tae-yul was appointed in December 2016, so there are speculations that his fate would be similar to Kim. In the Korean mission, there seems to be uncertainty over personnel appointment and the stance on North Korea following the administration change. It was already predicted that the Korean mission wouldn’t take any action for the latest provocation.

The new administration is completing the diplomatic and security lineup. Foreign minister nominee Kang Kyung-hwa arrived in Seoul on June 25 and is getting ready for the confirmation hearing. At the airport, she met with reporters and emphasized that if North Korea makes additional provocations, stronger sanctions are needed. She sent a clear message on the North Korean threat, the most urgent issue at this time.

With a series of nuclear and missiles provocations, the Korean peninsula has been stirred lately. At this point, we must not stop having our voice heard in the international community. One of the urgent tasks for the new administration is to refresh the voice of the Korean mission to the UN.

In diplomacy, consistent principle and message are important. This is completely different from the theoretical response the Korean mission is giving. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley recently warned Pyongyang, “Don’t give us a reason” to fight.
Soon, other countries may warn Korea, “Don’t confuse us.”

JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 33

*The author is a New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

SHIM JAE-WOO