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Readiness is all

Dec 22,2017
North Korea’s situation seems to be getting worse, as seen in one defection after another of its soldiers and ordinary citizens. A total of 15 North Koreans have defected to South Korea so far this year, compared to five last year. Thursday’s defection of a soldier amid North Korea’s tightened security clearly shows the plight the people in the North are suffering under tough international sanctions.

As fellow North Korean soldiers approached the demarcation line along the tense border to find the defector, our soldiers fired 20 rounds toward them as a warning. Two North Korean fishers also risked their lives to navigate toward South Korean waters in the East Sea on Tuesday.

Security experts attribute these defections to deepening economic hardships as a result of ever-tougher sanctions. Even if they did not attempt to defect, North Korean fishermen often go adrift in the sea to meet the increasingly high goals the authorities set to ease their worsening food situation. Japan’s Coast Guard has found a record 83 wrecked North Korean boats along the western coastline this year. All the circumstantial evidence suggests that the North’s ordinary people, particularly soldiers, became the first victims of the sanctions.

Our government must not let its guard down after dismissing such defections as accidental. If such cases occur often in the same place in the same way, it means they resulted from internal problems. Under such circumstances, North Korea is easily tempted to address its predicament by resorting to provocations. In that case, South Korea will certainly be its first target.

Yet the Moon Jae-in administration appears to have a laid-back attitude. Minister of the Interior and Safety Kim Boo-kyum even says that the ministry has no evacuation plan to brace for an emergency from a North Korean attack because it could help fuel public anxiety. That is in sharp contrast with the evacuation drills in the state of Hawaii to prepare for a North Korean nuclear attack and with the distribution of contingency plans by the government in Guam. Japan also is considering the introduction of evacuation drills next year. Tokyo is sensitively responding to the increasing arrivals of wrecked boats from North Korea by dispatching policemen to those areas.

The government must kick off evacuation drills before it’s too late. It can add guidelines on how to escape from a nuclear attack to its monthly civil defense drill. What makes the people more insecure than a nuclear attack is a government burying its head in the sand in the face of an imminent danger.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 22, Page 38