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Way too fast

June 18,2018
After the Singapore summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, denuclearization and a peace process is accelerating at a dizzying pace on the Korean Peninsula. But the public has mixed feelings. While welcoming a North Korea without nuclear weapons and the possibility of peace in a divided land, they cannot calm their anxieties over the stunning developments.

First of all, our concerns involve Trump’s remarks about stopping joint military exercises between the two allies. After Trump defined them as “provocative,” the Moon Jae-in administration nearly accepted the suspension of the annual drills. But discontinuing those exercises can endanger our security and possibly lead to the breakup of our decades-old alliance. The government must come up with ways to minimize our potential security vacuum.

Similar uncertainty lingers over the North’s alleged plan to move back its thousands of pieces of long-distance artillery deployed along the border. In Thursday’s meeting between the two Koreas’ generals, North Korea reportedly proposed to pull back its artillery about 20 miles from the border if South Korea does the same for its hundreds of self-propelled guns and halts reconnaissance flights over the frontline. But we cannot rule out the possibility of Pyongyang trying to neutralize our strategic assets by taking advantage of the nascent peace mood. Yet our top brass simply keeps saying, “That’s not true.”

The public is also perplexed by the speedy improvement in U.S.-North relations. Trump is expected to talk with Kim on the phone next Sunday. In surprising developments, a war of nerves over the size of their “nuclear buttons” has suddenly turned into a possible “direct deal” over a hotline. That could be a fortunate development for peace, but our concerns will deepen if Trump and Kim discuss such sensitive issues as a reduction of American forces in South Korea.

Nevertheless, our defense and foreign ministers do not address growing public anxiety. Whenever security concerns appear, Moon Chung-in, President Moon’s special adviser on security, simply appears on television to say all is well. Although his prophesies have been realized more often than not, our defense and foreign ministers are not seen.

If the government reacts in such shadowy ways, the peace process will face a strong backlash. President Moon must vow to safeguard our security. Moon must explain what’s going on and seek the public’s understanding and support.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 18, Page 30