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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 13)

All News 09:08 June 13, 2020

NK's offensives should not lead to provocative action

North Korea's recent verbal offensives unleashed on both South Korea and the United States are a regrettable reminder that the historic 2018 North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore did not achieve much in the way of specifics for N.K.'s denuclearization and Korean peace.

On the second anniversary of the summit between U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Friday, the North expressed "despair" and denounced the United States. Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon said through the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), "Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns." He added, "Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise."

Ri also said the North sees little need to maintain personal ties between Trump and Kim ― who through "letter diplomacy" patched up possible diplomatic friction. He continued that North Korea will develop more reliable forces to counter the long-term U.S. military threat.

Unlike the livid commentaries against Seoul voiced on Rodong Sinmun during the past week, Ri's statement toward Washington was carried by the KCNA. Ri noticeably spoke of both "developing force" but also "receiving any returns," that could leave open the possibility for further negotiations.

Tactically, Pyongyang may be looking to have an impact on Washington using Seoul as an intermediary. With the U.S. presidential elections due in November, Pyongyang might be surmising that now is the time to apply pressure for action. Or by expressing "dismay and resentment" and now despair" at the lack of progress in getting U.S.-led economic sanctions relaxed after the denuclearization talks stalled, the North may be building up justification for provocative actions ― the least desirable scenario on the Korean Peninsula. Additionally, at the start of the year Kim vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent.

The U.S. State Department has to date said it is sticking to the Singapore summit agreement and is willing to take a flexible approach.
\ Seoul, however, seems to be in a hurry to appease the North, despite the North having cut off communication channels. Since Kim Yo-jong, first vice department director of the Workers' Party's Central Committee, and Kim Jong-un's sister, pounced on the South for failing to stop the sending of anti-North Korean leaflets across the border, lawmakers have pledged to legislate a bill banning this. Then the government vowed to crack down on it and the unification ministry filed complaint against two defectors' group sending the leaflets, even as questions of freedom of expression were raised.

Understandably, one of President Moon Jae-in's central legacies is to spearhead Korean peace. But officials should seek to determine what the real intentions are behind the North's recent shift to hostility, and seek a wise response instead of a piece-meal one. Policymakers should also take inter-Korean steps that will be in concert with the larger geopolitical landscape and dynamics in Northeast Asia.

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