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Careful approach is needed

July 18,2017
The Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Unification has proposed to North Korea that a military meeting and a Red Cross meeting be held at the same time. That’s a follow-up to the new Korean Peninsula peace initiative President Moon Jae-in laid out during the Group of 20 summit on July 6. Moon offered a military meeting at Panmunjeon on July 21 to discuss a suspension of hostilities across the border and a meeting for a reunion of separated families after the Korean War (1950-53). We hope his effort to find a breakthrough in the current stalemate through dialogue helps achieve the ultimate goal of a denuclearized peninsula without the risk of war.

The hostile activities Moon mentioned refer to each side’s loud speaker broadcasts and flying balloons carrying propaganda leaflets. Both sides resumed the offensive campaign after the North’s fourth nuclear test in January. Pyongyang went so far as to lay more 2,000 landmines along the DMZ and send unmanned reconnaissance drones to the South. Therefore, stopping such antagonistic activities is crucial to easing tension on the peninsula. A reunion of separated families is also desirable given the old age of the separated family members. If North Korea accepts the proposal, a bilateral meeting could be held 19 months after the last vice-ministerial level meeting in 2015 between the two governments.

But more important is denuclearization of the North. Pyongyang is expected to secure scores of nuclear weapons through its highly enriched uranium within three years, following the production of its plutonium-based nuclear bombs this year. Once nuclear-armed, North Korea can pose a real threat to not only South Korea but also Japan and the United States. After successfully launching its first ICBM on July 4, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a nationwide ceremony to celebrate it.

A strategic balance can be broken when North Korea succeeds in developing an ICBM capable of striking the U.S. mainland in a few years. When that happens, no one can ensure our security. To avoid that critical point, Uncle Sam has already begun levying additional sanctions on more than ten Chinese companies that do business with North Korea as part of a secondary boycott. No doubt the U.S. sanctions will intensify down the road.

Under such circumstances, it will be better if our government can make some tangible accomplishments. But if the government is obsessed with making appeasement proposals, this can backfire; Seoul can expect small gains, but could fail in averting a bigger crisis. Pyongyang could simply dismiss Moon’s proposal as sheer nonsense.

We hope our government acts prudently, as time is running out to prevent the North from arming itself with nuclear weapons. Pyongyang also must respond to the proposal with sincerity for the sake of the peninsula.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 18, Page 30