A por­cu­pine makes a dif­fi­cult pet

South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon needs re­mind­ing that cau­tion can be a virtue

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

If North Korea were a zoo and not a prison camp, ap­pro­pri­ate sig­nage would read: “Please don’t pet the por­cu­pine.” When South Korea’s new pres­i­dent ar­rives at the White House on Thurs­day, Don­ald Trump should re­mind his guest that pre­de­ces­sors who ig­nored the need for due dili­gence learned a les­son more painful than a mere por­cu­pine prick. The smart ap­proach to Py­ongyang is to keep a healthy dis­tance.

Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, elected last month to re­place Park Geun-hye fol­low­ing a bribery scan­dal, is ex­pected to spend much of his time with Pres­i­dent Trump wran­gling over how to deal with North Korea’s volatile Kim Jong-un. The “crazy fat kid,” as Sen. John McCain fa­mously called him, has mis­siles and can­non pointed at Seoul while he waits for his tech­ni­cians to de­velop the nu­clear war­heads they promised. It’s es­sen­tial that the two lead­ers, whose in­stinc­tive re­ac­tion to dan­ger dif­fers, find a way to stand shoul­der-to-shoul­der against North Korea.

Since greeted in of­fice by Mr. Kim’s in­ces­sant mar­tial threats and mis­sile tests, Mr. Trump has adopted a stance of “max­i­mum pres­sure” and “strate­gic pa­tience,” with car­rier strike groups rid­ing at com­bat sta­tion off the Korean Penin­sula and B-1 bombers fly­ing cau­tion­ary pa­trols. Mr. Moon, on the other hand, as­cended to the pres­i­dency promis­ing to re­duce the ten­sion be­tween North and South that has roiled the “land of the morn­ing calm” since the end of the Korean War six decades ago. The South Korean pres­i­dent wants to give in­cen­tives to Py­ongyang to cur­tail nu­clear and mis­sile tests, and even of­fered to travel to Py­ongyang to demon­strate good faith.

Alas, the open hand of friend­ship has been of­fered be­fore.

Former pres­i­dents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun each prac­ticed a sim­i­lar ap­proach to the North, which they called the “Sunshine Pol­icy.” There were 18 rounds of govern­ment-sanc­tioned fam­ily re­unions be­gin­ning in 2000, when fam­i­lies di­vided by the war were al­lowed to meet again. The re­unions ended in 2010, leav­ing only the yearn­ing of the sep­a­rated.

The urge for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion may be dif­fi­cult for Amer­i­cans to fully ap­pre­ci­ate. More than six decades of sep­a­ra­tion have fanned un­re­quited long­ing for re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion. Mr. Moon nat­u­rally feels the emo­tional tug of mil­lions of his coun­try­men on both sides of the DMZ to fi­nally set aside their en­mity and re­store one Korea. Nev­er­the­less, “one Korea” must wait for a while longer. Se­cu­rity is nec­es­sar­ily para­mount, and it is Mr. Trump’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to stress the im­por­tance of the al­liance that has kept the North’s for­mi­da­ble mil­i­tary at bay dur­ing the long post­war era. To­ward that end, Mr. Trump should urge South Korea to pro­ceed with de­ploy­ment of the U.S.-built Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem that Mr. Moon sus­pended on tak­ing of­fice. The mis­sile de­fense ar­ray is crit­i­cal to safe­guard­ing South Korean cities and Amer­i­can bases as well as pro­tect­ing Ja­pan and per­haps even Amer­i­can cities on the Pa­cific coast.

With the de­fen­sive hard­ware in place, Mr. Moon can con­sider other gestures to demon­strate to Mr. Kim a will­ing­ness to thaw icy re­la­tions. A re­sump­tion of cross-bor­der fam­ily re­unions would be a wel­come ges­ture. With the 2018 Win­ter Olympics to be held in South Korea, a dar­ing pro­posal to move some ski­ing events to North Korea may be tempt­ing, if there are suf­fi­cient safe­guards against North Korea kid­nap­ping hostages.

Ex­pe­ri­ence makes en­e­mies re­luc­tant to lay down their weapons. The South Korean pres­i­dent longs to make the first move, but the be­hav­ior of his north­ern coun­ter­part dic­tates cau­tion. North Korea has not yet proved that it is wor­thy of any­one’s trust. Like the por­cu­pine’s sharp quills, Py­ongyang’s mis­siles re­main a clear and present dan­ger.

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