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North’s ‘enemy’ label may be lifted

Aug 23,2018
The Defense Ministry is considering removing the description of North Korea’s military as an “enemy state” in the 2018 Defense White Paper to be published later this year, reflecting improved ties between South and North Korea and joint efforts to reduce military tensions along the border.

“Continuing to refer to North Korea as an enemy state in an official government document that is to be made public could contradict our efforts to cease all hostile actions as stipulated in the Panmunjom Declaration,” said a government official speaking on the condition of anonymity, referring to the joint South-North agreement made during the April 27 inter-Korean summit.

While the Defense Ministry has yet to make it official, it is widely expected the military will delete that description in a fast-changing diplomatic landscape that saw two inter-Korean summits and a North-U.S. summit driven by the Moon Jae-in government’s effort to bring Pyongyang and Washington to the negotiation table.

“North Korea was defined as an enemy in the 2016 Defense White Paper on the premise that North Korean threats to our national security persist. We now judge that those threats have been alleviated,” said another government official, who asked not to be named.

In the Panmunjom Declaration, the two Koreas agreed to “cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict,” and vowed to transform the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into a so-called peace zone.

Following through on that commitment, Defense Minister Song Young-moo said Tuesday the military would began withdrawing about 10 border guard posts in the DMZ on a trial basis. Reciprocal steps by the North were expected, the minister noted.

If the Defense Ministry deletes the description of North Korea’s military as an enemy, it will be the first time since 2010.

The two liberal governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun didn’t describe the North as an “enemy state.” That description was retired in 2000 after the first historic South-North summit was held in Pyongyang between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, father of current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The two presidents pursed an engagement policy known as the Sunshine Policy that sought to bring the North out of international isolation through business cooperation and assistance.

In a 2004 white paper drafted during the Roh government, North Korea was described as “posing direct threat” to national security in the South with “conventional weapons, weapons of mass destruction and deployment of forces to the frontline,” without being referred to as enemy.

Power shifted to the conservative Lee Myung-bak government in 2008, and North Korea was defined as an enemy in a 2010 white paper in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan warship by a North Korean torpedo attack in March 2010, which Pyongyang continues to deny responsibility for, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island eight months later.

The North’s military has been referred to as an enemy ever since.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, LEE CHUL-JAE [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]