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Don’t ban leaflets

Aug 07,2017
President Moon Jae-in ordered senior officials to find methods to improve the way South Korea sends propaganda leaflets across the border into North Korea. Moon made the decision at a cabinet meeting with senior presidential secretaries and aides shortly after North Korea successfully test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile into the East Sea on July 4.

According to the Blue House, the president gave the instruction citing an alarming precedent in which an accidental clash took place after a civic group dispatched a number of balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border. However, Moon’s instructions have triggered a public uproar in the South as it sounded like he was trying to impose a restriction on the sending of leaflets into North Korea.

The leaflets have been serving as a vital channel for delivering news about the free world to the North Korean people, who live under the dictatorship of the Kim dynasty. The balloons carry leaflets demonstrating the amazing economic growth of South Korea, DVDs containing popular South Korean television dramas and songs, and small radios that enable them to listen to South Korean broadcasts.

North Koreans were able to get in touch with the outside world thanks to the balloons. In particular, DVDs of popular South Korean dramas were a very hot item for North Koreans. Some defectors even decided to flee their impoverished land after watching such DVDs and reading propaganda leaflets. It is hard to deny that such content served as a possible tool for change in the repressed nation.

But it is also true that the diffusion of our propaganda leaflets has caused trouble for South Koreans living close to the front lines. In 2014, North Korean soldiers on the DMZ went so far as to fire anti-aircraft guns at the balloons on more than ten occasions. After the provocations, Seoul put the brakes on civic groups’ activities in fear of substantial danger to South Koreans living near the border.

Nevertheless, the Seoul government cannot restrict or ban such civic campaigns. That is part of our democratic freedoms. North Korea is advancing its nuclear and missile technologies despite the international community’s ever-tougher sanctions. If the Kim Jong-un regime does not give up its cherished nuclear programs, we can hardly rule out the grim possibility of North Korea choosing a physical clash with the rest of the world. The Moon Jae-in administration must not ban the distribution of leaflets, which is a crucial means to help the recalcitrant country take a reform path without armed conflict.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 7, Page 30