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Heads in the sand

Dec 09,2017
It is shocking that the United States is having doubts about sending its team to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday said it remains “an open question” whether American athletes will take part in the February games at a time North Korea is making nuclear and missile provocations. A day later, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told White House correspondents, “No official decision has been made on that [U.S. participation in the Winter Games in South Korea].” The U.S. Olympics Committee confirmed that its team is set to go and the Blue House said U.S. President Donald Trump had promised to send the U.S. team. But the fact that Washington is even considering sitting out the Games raised fears about the security in the region around the time of the Olympic Games.

Unusual movements have also been noted around the Chinese border with North Korea. The state-run Jilin Daily devoted a full page to warning residents sharing the border with North Korea of how to evacuate in case of a nuclear explosion or radioactive fallout. There are reports that China will build five refugee camps for an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans around the border regions. All suggest ominous developments in North Korea in the near future.

The U.S. media reported that U.S. and Chinese top brass jointly studied the Cuban missile crisis case last November, which indicates Washington and Beijing were discussing developments in North Korea. The two could have discussed joint maritime sanctions, which could spark provocative action from Pyongyang and cause military conflict. And yet, the leadership in Seoul does not seem to realize the gravity of the situation.

South Korea is being sneered at as the only state refusing to admit to obvious dangers. During an interview with CNN, the South Korean foreign minister was challenged by the interviewer, who asked if Seoul authorities were “burying their head in the sand, a little bit like ostriches.”

Even as the Chinese media warns that South Korea would be the first target of a North Korean attack, the Seoul government waits for Washington and Beijing to settle the issue. President Moon Jae-in, in a lunch meeting with military generals, said the military should ready conditions to take over wartime command power from the U.S. Now is hardly the time to speak of reduced U.S. military capabilities in South Korea. The government must remember that 50 million lives are at risk.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 9, Page 30