A North Korean front-line unit conducted artillery drills just north of the West Sea border with South Korea. But the Ministry of National Defense did not announce the provocation immediately. News spread to South Korea from a North Korean media report.
The ministry said it could not announce the provocation because the analysis of a mysterious sound source it had detected was not finished. This means that military authorities were incompetent in grasping the sound source within those two days before the North Korean report came out. If this is true, there is a serious hole in the defense capability of the military.
Or military authorities may have swept the provocation under the carpet intentionally. The reason is obvious. Two months ago, President Moon Jae-in said the North has never violated the inter-Korean military agreement. Now, Kim has violated the agreement with the drills near the border and the ministry may have tried to conceal them, considering Moon’s remarks. Had it not been for the North Korean report, the ministry may have kept silent about the North’s violation of the accord.
Once the artillery firings were revealed by North Korea, military authorities here expressed regret, but did not elaborate. A day later, with criticism not easing, the ministry said it lodged a complaint via the inter-Korean military communication line and disclosed the date when it had detected the sound of artillery fire. But it says nothing about other details, including which way the North fired the artillery, how many guns it fired and how far the shells flew.
Lately, when it comes to issues involving North Korea, the administration has tried to hush them up.
It concealed on Nov. 7 that it was repatriating two North Korean fishermen. This was made known to media belatedly -- after they were repatriated -- after a text message on the cellphone of Kim You-geun, deputy director of Cheong Wa Dae’s National Security Office, was accidentally photographed by a journalist. Criticism mounted over the government’s secret and quick repatriation of the fishermen despite the fact that the North did not demand it first. Still, the government keeps its mouth shut about a spate of suspicions that include why it tried to handle the issue secretly.
Pyongyang revealed on Nov. 21 that Moon had sent North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a personal letter inviting him to the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan and that Kim had refused the invitation. Thanks to the revelation, people came to know the letter had been delivered to the North on the same day that Seoul notified Pyongyang of its decision to repatriate the fishermen. Suspicions flew, but Cheong Wa Dae and the Unification Ministry rarely mention this matter.
North Korea issues are directly related to national security. Information must be transparent. It is far from normal for people to obtain information through North Korean news reports. If they get news this way, they cannot but suspect that the government may be seeking risky deals with the North secretly. Above all, trying to hide provocations is as good as giving up defense.
The artillery drills are an obvious violation of the military agreements signed on Sept. 19, 2018 during an inter-Korean summit. The accord bans all of hostile acts within a zone of 135 kilometers over the West Sea border. The North Korean islet where the drills occurred is in the zone.
North Korea has test-fired short-range missiles on 12 occasions so far this year, sometimes saying they are a warning to South Korea. But Cheong Wa Dae and the military authorities said the North did not violate the agreements.
The no-fly zone established under the agreements has undermined the South Korean ability to reconnoiter North Korea. The South essentially gave up on its superiority in air reconnaissance.
South Korea’s self-propelled artillery deployed on northwestern islands adjacent to North Korea reportedly must be taken out to the mainland for firing drills because the islands are within the zone banning hostile acts. The agreements are advantageous only to the North. The South has weakened its defense on its own.
With the artillery drill, the North has made the agreements no more than scraps of paper. The latest provocation shows the North is willing to violate them anytime without hesitation. Expecting it to abide by them is simply a wishful thinking.
It is time to reconsider the agreements.