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A failed strategy

Sept 13,2017
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I found a doubtful part while reading some closed-door comments from a foreign policy and security expert at the beginning of the Moon Jae-in administration. He suggested the government earn time with an environmental impact evaluation on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) anti-missile system and protract the deployment, with Seongju residents filing a complaint about the deployment to the Constitutional Court, before initiating talks with North Korea and solving the issue.

I couldn’t help feeling that it was a makeshift measure for someone who values creative diplomacy. What was more puzzling was the optimism that Pyongyang would agree to talks.

When presidential envoy Lee Hae-chan visited China, there was a person who unofficially accompanied him to Beijing and acted separately. He had orchestrated the inter-Korean summit meeting by contacting North Korean figures in Beijing during the Roh Moo-hyun administration nine years ago. I traced his moves and as expected, I learned that he attempted to contact the North Korean side but returned without a result.

North Korea experts in China analyzed that Pyongyang set the goal of completing its nuclear armament by the end of the year and would not come to talks until then. An expert who frequently contacts officials at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing said that as the completion is nearing, Pyongyang cannot come to negotiations because of the investments it has made so far. The Moon government’s attempts to restore the communication channel from 10 years ago were futile.

After the sixth nuclear test, the government realized that earning time would not work. If North Korea experts had analyzed Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address or the missile launch angles, North Korea’s capacity, intention and determination could have been understood.
In fact, the Korean government was not completely in the dark. Multiple officials mentioned a report that suggests that North Korea has completed the miniaturization of nuclear warheads and the remaining aspects of ICBM completion is a matter of time.

Nevertheless, the policymakers underestimated or neglected the opinion and tried to earn time, mistakenly thinking that North Korea’s nuclear development was still in progress. Unlike the past administration, the government was confident that Seoul could bring Pyongyang to the table and Washington or Beijing could not. The basics of strategy is knowing self and the enemy, but either one or both may have failed.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 34

The author is Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

YEH YOUNG-JUNE