Yoon administration draws criticism for pressure tactics on N. Korea

Posted on : 2022-10-12 16:49 KST Modified on : 2022-10-12 16:49 KST
One expert said it was “more dangerous” to try to attempt to push the North into submission when it already possesses nuclear weapons
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held at the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on Oct. 11. (presidential office pool photo)
President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks at a Cabinet meeting held at the presidential office in Yongsan, Seoul, on Oct. 11. (presidential office pool photo)

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol renewed his emphasis on the South Korea-US alliance and trilateral security cooperation with Japan on Tuesday, a day after North Korea ratcheted up the tenor of its nuclear threats with reference to “tactical nuclear operation units.”

Yoon also stressed that his “audacious initiative” offering a roadmap for North Korea’s denuclearization remains valid even after the North Korean leader’s remarks about feeling “no need” for dialogue with Seoul or Washington. The situation shows the lack of practical exit strategies for the current vicious cycle of escalating tensions.

Meeting with reporters en route to his presidential office in Yongsan on Tuesday, Yoon said, “The North Korean nuclear threat is growing more serious by the day.”

“As I have emphasized many times before, I intend to prepare and respond effectively by establishing a very robust response system based on a solid South Korea-US alliance and security cooperation by South Korea, the US and Japan,” he continued.

Commenting on opposition parties’ criticism over Seoul’s cooperation with Tokyo on joint exercises with the US in the East Sea, he said, “What sort of concerns can be rationalized in the face of a nuclear threat?”

“The Korean people are intelligent, and I believe they will judge matters correctly,” he added.

When asked by reporters whether his “audacious initiative” remained valid even with the threats posed by the North, Yoon affirmed that it did.

“North Korea has nothing to gain by using nuclear weapons,” he replied, reaffirming his intention of providing North Korea with phased support to radically improve its economic conditions if it changes course toward practical denuclearization.

At the same time, Seoul remains on the alert for signs of North Korea ramping up its military activities.

Meeting with reporters, a key official with the presidential office said the administration was considering the possibility that North Korea might engage not only in additional missile testing and a seventh nuclear test, but also in limited conventional provocations.

“We are preparing for any sort of provocation that North Korea might attempt,” they explained.

In reference to these countermeasures, the official said only that the South Korea-US alliance and trilateral cooperation with Japan were “more robust than ever before” and that the parties were “pursuing extended deterrence in a stronger and firmer form than in the past.” In effect, the remarks showed evidence of a situation where Seoul has no recourse but to rely on the alliance with the US and security cooperation with the US and Japan.

As fears continue to mount, some observers have called for extreme response measures, including the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

When asked by reporters about these calls, Yoon said, “That is not an issue for me to state this or that position on publicly as president at the present time.”

He added that the administration was “listening closely and examining various opinions in South Korea and among the US government and public.”

His remarks suggested a slightly different nuance from past ones in which he voiced clear opposition to the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons, citing South Korea’s obligation to comply with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. While one news outlet reported that day that the ruling party and presidential office had discussed the redeployment issue, the presidential office stressed that “no such discussion took place.”

Experts agreed that the current situation does not leave room for the inter-Korean dialogue component of Yoon’s “initiative,” but stressed that the administration should continue working to bring dialogue about.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Kyungnam University Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said, “It’s more dangerous when we approach things with the attitude of trying to make North Korea submit through sanctions pressure alone when it already possesses nuclear weapons.”

“We need to set realistic goals and develop a sophisticated response,” he urged.

Wi Sung-lac, a former South Korean Ambassador to Russia, said, “We shouldn’t close off the possibility of dialogue with North Korea.”

“We [also] shouldn’t be pushing China and Russia into a relationship of endless antagonism,” he added.

By Kim Mi-na, staff reporter; Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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