South Korea’s President Moon is risking safety for peace
When the joint Korean delegation marched together under a unity flag during the Winter Olympics, the nearness of a peaceful unification should have been an overwhelming feeling of hope and joy. Instead, as I sat in the stands watching the glittering spectacle, I was struck by an urgent sense of warning. Any negotiations with North Korea must be treated with great caution based on the simple fact that Kim Jung Un cannot be trusted.
As a trilingual Korean-American woman who grew up in Seoul, I am very familiar with the decades-long roller coaster of unification efforts in the Korean peninsula. I have seen first-hand the devastation the North repeatedly causes to Korean families and the narratives of war and destruction they have routinely spouted. And now we face a new approach by Kim Jong Un who is using a new tactic of pursuing peace in order to isolate South Korea and draw them in with hopes of unity.
This all underscores the importance of making sure any meaningful peace talks should absolutely include the South's biggest ally - the United States, whose own national security also centers on peace in the peninsula.
Unfortunately, South Korean President Moon Jae-in doesn't seem to recognize any of that. In recent months, as preparations for the 2018 Winter Olympics were in full swing, President Moon used the time to autonomously pursue unification efforts, first agreeing to welcome the North Korean delegation before allowing athletes from both Koreas to march together during the opening ceremony, not to mention the controversial decision to combine the women's hockey teams.
These actions have triggered a backlash from many South Koreans, with several small rallies and protests erupting across the country. One such protest took place upon the arrival of Hyon Song Wol, lead member of the Moranbong Band and the North Korean official responsible for managing the North's artistic performances during the Olympic games. Her entourage was given an overtly warm welcome and extensive police protection, and during the related protests, images of Kim Jong Un and the unity flag were burned and trampled on.
Those protesting were voicing their displeasure over recent agreements between President Moon and the North, even going so far as to rename the 2018 Winter Olympics to the Pyongyang Olympics (named for North Korea's capital city). They see the dictator's willingness to negotiate with Moon as nothing more than a ruse to lessen South Korea's sanctions on the North and to also harm their international relationships and standing, especially with the United States.
After the incident, North Korea's KCNA news agency from the "Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country" issued a statement calling the protesters in Seoul "human rejects devoid of appearance as human beings." The committee also called for South Korea to publicly apologize for the protests, which the North claims were attempts to escalate a confrontation between the two countries during the Olympics. This irrational behavior and outlandish requests are just a small example of why the North can't be reasoned with or trusted.
South Korean police had also announced they would be investigating the matter. This elevated attention from the police raises eyebrows because similar protests that occurred during a United States state visit to South Korea were dealt with quietly.
It's quite obvious that when it comes to reunification efforts, Moon administration's main plan of action is to be subservient and make sacrifices that put the rights and safety of all Koreans at risk. Especially after North Korea flaunted its ballistic missile tests, it's not surprising to see how Moon's controversial actions have resulted in his approval rating undergoing a steep 14 percent decline during his first year in office.
Disregarding decades of political history, it appears as though South Korean president would prefer to hand over all soft power to the North Korean dictator without ensuring the Kim Jong Un regime took clear steps toward denuclearization.
It's easy to see through the bilateral kumbaya between the two Korean leaders. Their working relationship is not based on shared goals and mutual respect. That's why I am grateful to President Trump and Vice President Pence who have not forgotten about North Korean threats and have consistently shown a strong, diplomatic stance in the Korean peninsula. Their strong leadership will be necessary long after the Olympic games.
Peace in the Korean Peninsula can only be established between leaders who value truth and accountability. I am hopeful that diplomatic progress can be made with North Korea taking steps toward denuclearization. And that starts with the United States engaging in initial talks with both Koreas.
Michelle Steel serves as the supervisor of 2nd District of Orange County in California. Born in South Korea, Steel is the first Korean-American elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.