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Now or never

July 31,2017
Tension has reached a boiling-point after North Korea fired its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile in the middle of the night on Friday. Pyongyang has chosen the most provocative way to respond to Seoul’s repeated overtures for dialogue and a reunion of war-separated families.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in immediately retracted his dovish position and commanded a fresh set of unilateral sanctions in an emergency National Security Council meeting, where he also called for an expansive joint missile drill with the United States. Diplomatic solutions would be best, but they are unrealistic and foolish if Pyongyang snubs international calls and obsessively works on perfecting its nuclear and missile program. Under the current conditions, pressure is a better option than dialogue.

Pyongyang must be cornered to the extent that it has no other choice but to walk to the negotiating table on its own two feet. Seoul must join forces with Washington to support its policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” The U.S. Congress recently passed a new set of sanctions calling for a ban on crude supplies to North Korea and a secondary boycott to block any trade deals with the reclusive state. Seoul also must work together with other states as the UN Security Council is also mulling another resolution on North Korean sanctions.

Beijing’s role is more crucial than ever. It has been lukewarm in pressuring North Korea, although it publicly criticizes its nuclear and missile development. It reiterated that it opposes the antimissile shield known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad), even after another long-range missile test by North Korea. China has been easing sanctions on North Korea whenever conflict with South Korean has widened.

Seoul must repeatedly highlight that North Korea is the reason for Thaad in South Korea. It must assure China that it can remove the battery if the North Korean nuclear and missile threat is gone. Seoul must be firm in saying that the North Korean weapons threat and Thaad are interrelated.

Some will argue North Korea’s ICBM technology is not advanced enough to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. But it appears that it is a matter of time until North Korea perfects miniaturizing nuclear bombs or other mass-destructive agents to fit the warhead of a missile that can strike major U.S. cities like Los Angeles and New York. Our security will be jeopardized if North Korea secretly makes peace with the United States. We must ensure our alliance with Washington and keep our guard up.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 31, Page 26