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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 14)

Politics 07:02 August 14, 2019

Multiple crises loom large
: Time to restore diplomacy to tackle thorny issues

South Korea appears to face mounting risks from all fronts as the latest developments involving North Korea, the U.S. and Japan show. The geopolitical situation on the peninsula raises concerns about soured inter-Korean ties. It makes skepticism grow over Seoul's role in broking denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington. The ongoing trade dispute with Japan also poses a serious challenge to the Moon Jae-in administration.

Such developments remind us that misfortunes never arrive alone. President Moon is now faced with multiple crises arising from diplomacy, security and economy. It is rare to see the country confront so many grave issues at the same time. That's why the Moon government should feel the sense of crisis and make all-out efforts to deal with urgent problems no matter how difficult it is.

For starters, the deadlocked inter-Korean dialogue is a cause for concern. The Kim Jong-un regime is now trying to sideline South Korea in nuclear talks with the U.S. This is evident especially after the North test-fired new tactical short-range missiles five occasions last month and this month. Such missile launches cannot be simply regarded as the North's show of force in protest against a joint military exercise between the South and the U.S.

More worrisome is that Pyongyang seems to go back to its old tactics of having direct talks with Washington while leaving Seoul out in the cold. The North is also showing signs of driving a wedge between South Korea and its strong ally, the U.S. This move was apparent in a statement released Sunday by Kwon Jong-kun, director general of the Department of American Affairs at the North Korean foreign ministry. Kwon revealed his intention of excluding the South from any dialogue involving the North.

What's also regrettable is that Kwon used harsh expressions full of derisions to denigrate Moon's efforts to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and broker denuclearization talks between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump. Thus President Moon finds it difficult to keep playing his role as mediator.

Equally worrisome is that Trump is acting as if he sides with the North. He called the joint exercise "ridiculous and expensive," echoing the North's complaint about it. Also noticeable is Trump's attempts to put more pressure on its Asian ally to pay far more for the stationing of American troops here. He even said jokingly that it was easier to get $1 billion from South Korea than to get $114.30 from a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn. Trump apparently sees everything in terms of deals. His remarks represent disregard for the value of the bilateral alliance.

South Korea is looking like a whipping boy or a sitting duck. This might stem from a lack of diplomacy on the part of the Moon administration which purged competent diplomats specializing in American and Japanese issues in the name of eliminating "evils" of the past government. Now it is urgent to restore diplomacy to better cope with the looming crises. Otherwise, the country cannot overcome its conflict with Japan, maintain its alliance with the U.S. or expand cooperation with the North.

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