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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 26)

All News 07:08 March 26, 2021

Stop escalating tensions
North Korea should not return to brinkmanship

North Korea has escalated ensions on the Korean Peninsula by carrying out military provocations. On Thursday, the North fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea. They flew about 450 kilometers with an altitude of 60 kilometers after being launched from the eastern town of Hamju in South Hamgyong Province, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

The launches came four days after the reclusive country shot off two short-range cruise missiles into the West Sea. It was the first time since March 2020 that the North has fired ballistic missiles. Cheong Wa Dae expressed "deep concern" over the provocation after holding an emergency National Security Council meeting.

The developments are raising fears that the Kim Jong-un regime might return to its outdated brinkmanship tactics in hopes of gaining an upper hand over South Korea and the U.S. The provocations are seen as a carefully calculated move before the Joe Biden administration completes its policy review on North Korea. It appears that Pyongyang is seeking to draw international attention and turn the tables on Seoul and Washington.

The North's provocations have been putting the new U.S. administration to the test. The Kim regime was also certainly trying to vent out its grievances at U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who accused the North of human rights violations during his visit to Seoul last week for a "two plus two" meeting. North Korea is also taking advantage of the growing Sino-U.S. rivalry to forge closer ties with China, its sole benefactor.

The missile launches pose a serious security threat not only to South Korea and the U.S., but also to its neighbors such as Japan. Seoul and Washington made public the North's cruise missile launches belatedly, three days after the fact, saying that they did not constitute violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions against the North. The U.S. brushed off the launches as part of "normal testing." President Biden even said, "Nothing much has changed."

The two allies must have taken such a lukewarm attitude toward the North to avoid angering it. However, that response seemed to embolden the Kim regime to fire the ballistic missiles, a clear violation of the U.N. resolutions. That's why Seoul and Washington should keep a firmer stance against any provocations by North Korea.

More worrisome, Pyongyang has continued refusing to return to dialogue with Seoul and Washington. Instead, it has heightened the level of its harsh rhetoric and provocative acts. The North rebuffed U.S. offers for talks. Its First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said last week that Pyongyang won't resume negotiations with Washington unless the latter revokes its "hostile policy" toward the North.

Against this backdrop, South Korea and the U.S. need to take a two-track policy of luring the North back to dialogue while taking stern action against any provocations by the Kim regime. Most of all, the allies should hammer out a joint strategy to better deal with the recalcitrant North and prod it to move toward denuclearization and peace. North Korea, for its part, must stop resorting to brinksmanship, resume dialogue, and keep its earlier pledges to scrap its nuclear arsenal.

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