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A demand too far

Jan 30,2018
The Moon Jae-in administration is considering the idea of bringing diesel oil to Mount Kumgang to help North Korea supply electricity for a joint performance between the two Koreas scheduled for early February. Diesel is an item strictly banned by the United Nations and the United States sanctions. The government seems to think there is no problem with supplying oil — specifically, 10,000 liters (approximately 63 barrels) — to North Korea because it is not only a small quantity, but also aimed at generating electricity for the joint performance.
The United Nations prohibits any parties from providing North Korea with oil exceeding 500,000 barrels. The government has the position that the amount accounts for only 0.012 percent of the UN-imposed ceiling and that South Korea does not have to follow the United States’ unilateral ban on oil supplies to the North.

Such an attitude isn’t wise when we take into account the volatile situation involving the North Korean nuclear threat after the PyeongChang Winter Oympics. Without close coordination with Uncle Sam, the government’s plan could create a schism in the united front on North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations. Even if Seoul does not have to comply with the ban, it should not deviate from the sanctions imposed by its ally.

The supplying of oil also violates the principle of reciprocity agreed on between Seoul and Pyongyang. For instance, North Korea should bear all the expenses involved because the cultural performance is held in the North, just as South Korea bears the entire costs of the North Korean delegation, including athletes, officials, cheerleaders and an art troupe, during their stay in the South before and during the Games.

The government’s plan to have joint training at the Masikryong ski range also triggered an avalanche of criticism at home and abroad because forced labor was used to build the ski resort on the order of leader Kim Jong-un. If it is unavoidable for the government to supply oil for a joint performance in the North, it must seek Washington’s understanding. Otherwise, the U.S. may get the impression that Seoul is being hoodwinked by Pyongyang.

South Korea is in a festive mood ahead of the PyeongChang Olympics. But security analysts say there is a strong likelihood of a North Korean provocation after the Games. As U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis underscored, the Olympics is not a magic wand that can solve the North Korean nuclear conundrum. The government must not forget the importance of a solid Korea-U.S. alliance at times of grave threats.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 30