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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 29)

All News 07:00 April 29, 2020

North's silence about Kim
Ramp up preparedness for any contingencies

After saying that he did not know anything about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's condition about a week ago, U.S. President Donald Trump said in his White House briefing Monday that he has a "very good idea but cannot talk about it now."

Trump then said people will hear about it soon. South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha Tuesday recapped the government's assessment at the National Assembly that "While there is no public activity of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un since the April 11 Workers' Party Politburo meeting, there is no unusual movement in North Korea detected even amid an array of recent reports."

Former North Korean diplomat and lawmaker-elect Tae Ku-min, better known as Thae Yong-ho, said in an interview with CNN that one thing for sure was that Kim probably "could not stand or walk on his own." Tae added, however, that such vital information regarding the North's leader would be known only by either Kim's wife, sister Kim Yo-jong and closest aides.

After Kim was absent from an important April 15 event marking the 108th anniversary of his grandfather and North Korea founder Kim Il-sung's birthday, unconfirmed news has been pouring forth about Kim's health condition. A South Korean daily reported that United States and South Korea military sent six reconnaissance planes simultaneously on Monday, in an apparent effort to reach closer to the truth.

For the moment, the cautious evaluation is that the Northern regime is not showing unusual movement, despite the prolonged absence of the 36-year-old leader. The third-generation Kim dynasty heir however has practiced long-term "disappearances" since he took power in late 2011.

Thus, taking advantage of the second anniversary of the historic Panmunjeom Declaration on Monday, President Moon Jae-in said he will pursue "realistic and practical ways for inter-Korean cooperation." The two Koreas can begin with the cooperation on COVID-19 crisis, follow through with joint projects in railroads and family reunions, he said.

Whether intended or not, the ball seems to be again in North Korea's court; a continuing trend over the past few decades.

It is even ironic that even silence from the North, regarding its leader's whereabouts gains the North more global attention it craves than the missiles it has fired in recent years in its pursuit of nuclear weaponization. In that regard, South Korea must exercise vigilance in the traditional sense of security for the Korean Peninsula, even as it marches on toward fulfilling cooperative projects. The Panmunjeom Declaration was for "peace, prosperity and unification" of the peninsula.

A wise North Korean leadership may well take the opportunity of the situation to re-enter the international venue for talks, all but stalled since the breakdown of the U.S.-North Korea talks in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019. We can only hope for the North's sensible and strategic response to the South's proposals.

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