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Terrorism & Security

South Korea launches fresh round of military drills as North Korea seems to soften

South Korea launched a planned round of multi-day military exercises Wednesday, while rebuffing the North's recent conciliatory gestures.

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The Christian Science Monitor reports that many in the South saw the lack of reaction from the North as a bluff intended to extract concessions and appease the international community. The North also made a pledge Tuesday to an unofficial US envoy, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, to allow inspectors to visit its nuclear sites, but the move was quickly dismissed by US officials. Reuters reports that White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said “the action must come not from their words, but from their deeds.” He said the US would not move to resume six-party talks with the North about its nuclear program until the North changes its behavior.

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An editorial in The Korea Times argues that while the South is correct to suspect the sincerity of the North’s pledge, it should seize the opportunity for a “diplomatic counterattack,” sending the ball back to the North’s court by “accepting the dialogue offer and including the inspection of uranium power plants in inspection targets.”

The key lies in Seoul returning to the center of the diplomatic stage instead of shying away from it and only calling for the change in Pyongyang’s attitude.
While South Korea has maintained its own version of the "strategic patience” – waiting for either the North’s voluntary denuclearization or implosion – Pyongyang has gone even more wayward to insult Seoul with unprovoked violence, while the two Northern partners of China and Russia have come to admonish the South on self-restraint, unreasonably treating the villain and victim as the same. There is no reason whatsoever for South Korea to endure this insult and humiliation by remaining as a passive player.

The editorial argues that South Korea should use more skillful diplomacy to avoid alienating China, the North’s largest ally, and Russia. That echoes an editorial in the South Korean paper Chosun Ilbo, which castigates the South for failures in diplomacy and urges the government to pursue more strategic action on the diplomatic front.

While maintaining a solid alliance with the U.S., Seoul needs to consider soothing Beijing's nerves by sending a message that it will not add pressure on China, and it should remind Russia that cooperation on the political level can benefit both sides economically. Now the top task in national security other than maintaining a watertight military defense against North Korean provocations is to find a breakthrough in diplomatic relations with China and Russia.


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