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Northern flip-flops

May 23,2018
North Korea refused to allow South Korean reporters to cover its dismantling of a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong. On May 14, the North’s Foreign Ministry officially notified South Korea, the United States, Britain, China and Russia of its intention to invite their journalists to the demolition. Seoul-based reporters went to Beijing to catch a chartered flight. But Pyongyang suddenly banned South Korean reporters from entering North Korea.

The North’s weird and petulant behavior patterns are nothing new. Nevertheless, it is regrettable that it once again flip-flopped on a promise of significance. That also constitutes a denial of the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration in which President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to end an era of hostility by putting agreements into action. Pyongyang must allow our reporters to cover the event scheduled for between May 23 and 25.

We wonder why North Korea denied our reporters access to the site while issuing visas to journalists from four other countries. It could be a way of putting pressure on President Moon, who is on a visit to Washington for his third summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Pyongyang most likely is aiming to force Moon to persuade Trump to ease up on his “resolution of the issue in one stroke” and move toward a “phased and simultaneous solution” backed by Kim.

After the North’s unexpected volte-face, Trump reportedly asked Moon to explain the situation. The more suspicious Trump becomes, the harder Moon will find it to restore trust. Also, Moon must not try to deal with Trump as if he represents Pyongyang’s position due to his obsession with a successful Trump-Kim summit next month. It will go nowhere if Moon gives the impression that South Korea is on North Korea’s side.

After the Panmunjom Declaration, North Korea has been putting more pressure on South Korea. The North’s Red Cross is demanding South Korea send back 12 North Korean restaurant workers who defected to South Korea from China two years ago. It also denounced a South-U.S. joint air force drill and remarks by North Korean defector Thae Yong-ho, a former senior diplomat in London.

Such actions are aimed at taming the Moon administration and fueling internal conflict in South Korea. What counts most is our government’s stance. It must counter Pyongyang’s calculated actions with determination. If we cannot stand on principle, denuclearization is a pipe dream.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 30