North Korea was rude and unruly. It canceled a joint cultural performance with South Korea abruptly. All it did to break agreements signed at a high-level meeting on Jan. 17 was send a notice to the South on Monday night.
It is the second time that the North has backed out of an inter-Korean deal. On the night of Jan. 19, a prominent band leader’s visit to inspect performance venues in the South was delayed abruptly by North Korea.
If the North ignores official accords this way, it would be nearly impossible to build trust and hold joint events on the basis of trust. If cancellation or postponement is inevitable, it should follow proper procedures to ask for understanding from Seoul.
The South Korean government said the cancellation of the performance was “very regrettable” and stressed North Korea should uphold all inter-Korean agreements.
It is a right move, but one cannot erase the impression that the South is trying hard not to pique the North.
It is questionable if Pyongyang will heed Seoul’s expression of regret, given its history of last-minute cancellations and unexplained reversals.
North Korea blamed South Korea’s news media. It said the South’s media not only insulted its sincere measures related to the PyeongChang Olympics but criticized one of its commemorative events, apparently referring to a military parade Pyongyang is preparing to mark the founding of its army.
It is undeniable that some media outlets were critical of North Korea and the agreements on its Olympic participation, but South Korea is a democracy which guarantees the freedom of press. It is anachronistic to blame the media.
However, there seems to be more to it than the reasons the North cited.
Experts speculate Pyongyang may have canceled the performance to warn the South over controversies related to sanctions against the North.
There was concern that the South would violate sanctions if it transported diesel to the North to generate electricity needed to hold the performance.
North Korea was supposed to prepare the joint performance at Kumgangsan on Feb. 4 on its own. But in meetings to discuss details of the event, the North reportedly demanded that the South provide diesel needed to stage the performance, apparently due to the country’s shortage of oil.
Pyongyang must stop acting unpredictably and fulfill agreements sincerely. It should offer convincing explanations and promise not to cancel agreements with the South without any consultations.
Dialogue between South and North Korea will be meaningless as long as the North insists on having its own way.
If it does not change its wayward behavior, the Moon Jae-in administration is likely to see its North Korean policies go down the drain. The South must stop trying not to displease the North. It should say what it wants the North to do.
The North’s military parade, which marks the 70th anniversary of its armed forces, is a hot-button issue, as the South is trying to highlight the peace aspect of the PyeongChang Olympics.
As many as 50,000 soldiers and civilians will reportedly be mobilized for the parade, and a wide array of latest weapons will be displayed.
It is worth considering asking the North to put off or downsize the parade slated for Feb. 8, a day before the opening of the Olympics, as the South and the US have postponed joint military exercises until after the games.
Reciprocity and proportionality are rules in diplomacy.
And yet, Seoul may have to offer out-of-proportion help to Pyongyang to proceed with a joint event and further dialogue and exchanges.
Before doing so, however, it must consult the US and other members of the international community closely about issues related to sanctions against the North.
On one hand, the South must try to ensure the North reciprocates with corresponding measures. If the North shows no change at all regarding its nukes, the South needs to reflect on whether it is obsessed with the North’s participation in the Olympics.