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No time for cacophony

Sept 05,2017
At the peak of the North Korean nuclear crisis, a solid Korea-U.S. alliance is more important than ever. The alliance must be based on strong trust and close communication between leaders of the two nations. But their exchanges of contradictory remarks and incompatible positions raise true alarm.

On Sunday, shortly after the North’s sixth nuclear test, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” Trump’s message is an explicit denunciation of the Moon Jae-in government’s dovish approach to solving the North Korean nuclear problem through dialogue.

Even after Trump’s tweets, the Blue House said that South Korea will not give up on finding peaceful ways to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula together with allies because the country directly experienced a bloody war with the same people across the border. That constitutes a brazen reaffirmation of Seoul’s appeasement of Pyongyang.

The divergence in stances is getting more and more obvious. After Trump tweeted on Aug. 30, “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Moon emphasized dialogue and diplomatic effort while stressing a need to strongly counter the North’s provocations. If these two leaders disagree on the problem, a very wrong message can be sent to North Korea. Pyongyang will certainly be convinced that the international community’s sanctions will prove ineffective.

As the New York Times and the Washington Post pointed out, Trump made a critical mistake of criticizing an ally at a critical moment. He said he will discuss with his staff whether to pull out of the Korea-U.S. free trade deal, which triggered criticism from Capitol Hill that this is not the time for a trade war with a blood ally.

But Moon is also accountable for the schism. When North Korea threatened to fire missiles toward Guam, Moon declared on South Korea’s Liberation Day that no one can take military action in the peninsula without Seoul’s consent. That would surely have sounded offensive to the United States. Does Washington really need approval from Seoul to retaliate against a missile attack on its own territory? Moon’s behavior contrasts with that of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in constant communication with Trump.

Moon and Trump must restore the traditional alliance before it is too late if both want to overcome our worst-ever nuclear crisis.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 5, Page 30