Moon should face truth in dealing with North Korea
President Moon Jae-in failed to present any new policies or overtures at his New Year press conference Monday, only repeating what he had previously stated or had in mind. This failure was especially evident in foreign affairs and security issues. He only expressed his willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un any time at any place.
"Kim's possible return visit to Seoul is what we have already agreed on," Moon said during the conference held both online and offline for the first time due to the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic. The President also said he believes Kim has a "stern determination" toward denuclearization. "The North wants the U.S. to guarantee the security of its regime and normalize ties with it." But Moon's remarks are directly at odds with Kim's recent statement that he would build up his country's nuclear capabilities, putting a first priority on military power.
Moon is still focused on peace on the peninsula, reconfirming his previous stance. Worse still, he seems to have underestimated the imminent threats from the North. Moon needs to face the truth squarely given Pyongyang's recent flexing of its muscles and boasting of its military strength, thus heightening tension.
In the eighth congress of its Workers' Party last week, the North vowed to push through military buildup plans. In a military parade Thursday, the North showcased up-to-date tactical and strategic weapons such as submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and the KN-23, a ballistic missile with less than 600km range and so presumably designed to deliver tactical nuclear weapons.
The North's modernized weaponry is a show of force ahead of the incoming Joe Biden administration's inauguration set for Jan. 20. The display of the KN-23, in particular, has drawn extra attention as it could be used against the South as leverage in future negotiations with the U.S.
Concern is growing in the U.S. over the North's nuclear threat. According to a survey conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a nonpartisan organization, 550 government officials and foreign policy experts cited North Korea's nuclear weapons as the year's biggest security threat to America.
Moon's policymakers deserve criticism for their seemingly "naive" attitude toward the North. For instance, Rep. Yoon Kun-young of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) said Chairman Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong, who earlier denounced the South Korean authorities as "top idiots," made the disparaging remarks in a bolder bid to induce dialogue.
Jeong Se-hyun, vice chairman of the National Unification Advisory Council, also invited criticism by interpreting Kim Jong-un's statement of "strength-for-strength and goodwill-for-goodwill" as an appeal for support.
What is most urgent for Moon is to properly coordinate policy toward North Korea in close consultation with the Biden administration. Biden has recently nominated relatively "hawkish'' figures for posts in charge of Korean Peninsula issues, including Wendy Sherman as deputy secretary of state and David Cohen as CIA deputy head. The Moon administration should mobilize all possible diplomatic channels to grasp what the Biden administration will put weight on.