“I am the man accused of masterminding the sinking of the warship Cheonan in the South.” The first words of Kim Yong Chol, the head of North Korea’s United Front Department, in a meeting with South Korean reporters who were in Pyongyang to cover the performance of South Korean musicians, clearly reveal the true nature of North Korea’s charm offensive. Though made in jest, Kim’s mention of the act of provocation that took the lives of 46 South Korean sailors shows his sarcasm towards the incident and the South.
In a meeting hastily arranged to be given an apology for restricting media access to the first performance in Pyongyang, South Korean reporters must have been taken aback by Kim’s unexpected mention of Cheonan. Moreover, following comforting words from Kim did not give room for the reporters to further discuss the warship. Meanwhile, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun repeated its previous claim on Tuesday, calling the sinking of Cheonan a shameful scheme plotted by the South’s conservatives. This implies that Kim’s mention of Cheonan was a “thoroughly prepared mock.”
Yet, South Korean presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said that it had no comment, and the Ministry of National Defense also noted that it would not be appropriate to make an official mention of the issue. When Kim was set to visit South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the government did not even ask for the understanding of the relatives of the Cheonan victims. No matter how far we have come close to a rapprochement, the government should have expressed at least a word of regret over the abrupt, inappropriate comment made by the North’s top official.
Kim was a liaison officer at the truce village of Panmunjom and also served as head of North Korea’s spy agency Reconnaissance General Bureau. A charm offensive led by someone who was always an unpredictable negotiator at inter-Korean talks must have hidden deceptive tactics. We should never be fooled by the North’s lip service to lower our guard. Pyongyang’s seemingly bold reconciliatory gesture may turn into threats and provocations in a moment.