(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 17)
U.S. must step up
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits South Korea today amid ever-worsening tension from North Korea's nuclear threats and mounting pressure from China, Japan and the United States in a variety of disputes.
Pyongyang is once again ready to test-fire missiles and conduct its sixth nuclear test at any time. On top of that, major powers are competitively putting pressure on South Korea in a situation stunningly similar to the final days of the Joseon Dynasty over a century ago.
South Korea is in conflict with China over deployment of the U.S. missile shield known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad). With Washington, Seoul is getting flack on the issue of cost-sharing with the U.S. military in South Korea and over its free trade agreement. With Tokyo, the "comfort woman" issue continues to drag on.
With regard to Thaad deployment in particular, Seoul needs understanding and cooperation from Washington whether the two like it or not. The original goal of the Thaad battery was to safeguard the U.S. military in South Korea. Nevertheless, Beijing is venting at Seoul with a serious of meticulously choreographed retaliations. Given the Pentagon's recent announcement that it will deploy attack drones at Gunsan Air Base on a permanent basis, China will most likely augment its revenge. Under such circumstances, it is natural and sensible for the U.S. government to resolve the issue in an earnest manner.
Tillerson is coming to Seoul from Tokyo and afterward heads to Beijing to meet with Chinese leaders on Saturday. During his meeting today with Tillerson, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is acting president after Park Geun-hye was removed from office, must strongly request the U.S. secretary dissuade China from making retaliatory trade moves over security matters.
The government must also discuss with Tillerson effective ways to address North Korea's nuclear threats. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Kim Jong-un regime in Pyongyang has been engaged in unauthorized economic activities in China to make money through myriad shell companies despite tough sanctions from the United Nations. Without China's help, such business activities would be nearly impossible.
Therefore, our government must urge the United States to help root out such shady activities by North Korea once and for all through much tougher secondary boycotts of third-country financial institutions that are conducting business transactions with North Korea. At the same time, Seoul must correct Washington's misled views that the free trade agreement with the United States unilaterally benefits South Korea.