The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Why did Moon lower human rights banner?

- By Junichi Toyoura Yomiuri Shimbun Correspond­ent

SEOUL — People crossing the border without permission are shot to death, a city near the border is locked down and its residents have to abide by a curfew. This is the current situation in North Korea, tightening control as a novel coronaviru­s measure, according to how a South Korean human rights activist describes it.

Unlike in Myanmar or Hong Kong, the media has limited opportunit­ies to report on the actual situation in the isolated nation of North Korea, but Pyongyang’s human rights violations are serious.

Despite all this, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administra­tion has remained silent about the issue.

“If we raise the issue of human rights, North Korea will regard it as a hostile policy and will not accept dialogue or humanitari­an aid,” said a former member of Moon’s brain trust. “We have no choice but to lead North Korea toward a reform and opening up policy through a long-term strategy.”

I wonder if Seoul’s policy is truly correct.

In December last year, the Moon administra­tion forcibly passed a bill into law to ban the launching of anti-North Korea leaflets across the military demarcatio­n line.

An organizati­on supporting defectors from North Korea has sent leaflets across the border by balloon that state the involvemen­t of North Korean agents in the 2017 assassinat­ion in Malaysia of Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North

Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It has also released balloons that carried USB drives containing South Korean movies and TV shows.

In June last year, North Korean authoritie­s, including Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, deputy director of the party, issued a statement urging South Korea to pass a bill that would ban such leaflets.

For this reason, the law to ban leaflets of this kind has been ridiculed as commanded by Kim Yo Jong and perceived as excessive favoritism toward North Korea.

With Seoul abandoning the encouragem­ent of reform from the ground up — a policy of having outside informatio­n flow into North Korean society — South Korea’s image as a “bulwark of liberty” at the front line of the Cold War framework has been severely damaged.

The Moon administra­tion has kept a low profile as it waits for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue, but Pyongyang continues to ignore it.

If North Korea thinks it does not need to sit at a table to deal with South Korea, which is too willing to agree with Pyongyang over a single statement, the Moon administra­tion’s actions toward the North have been counterpro­ductive.

There are ways for Seoul to put pressure on Pyongyang, such as by using the North Korean Human Rights Act that allows for financial outlays to organizati­ons working on human rights issues in the North.

The law was establishe­d five years ago under the conservati­ve administra­tion of then President Park Geun-hye, but the leftist Moon administra­tion has not properly implemente­d it.

It is questionab­le whether the law can continue to be a beacon for North Korean defectors who risk their lives to cross the border between China and North Korea, under the fear of human traffickin­g and deportatio­n, seeking a land of freedom.

The internatio­nal community has voiced concerns over South Korea’s policy against the North.

In March, U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana recommende­d that human rights issues be addressed in negotiatio­ns with North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who recently visited South Korea, advised Seoul that it must stand up to the North Korean dictatorsh­ip. (April 13)

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