Country Report: South Korea (September 2017)

From July to September of 2017, South Korean news editorials discussed threats facing the country from three angles: 1) “Korea scaring,” referring to the latest set of North Korean provocations and deteriorating US-North Korean relations with severe implications for the South; 2) “Korea bashing,” referring to Trump’s increasing vexation with Moon’s talk of appeasement and continued Chinese retaliation against South Korea for THAAD; and 3) “Korea passing,” referring to speculations about a potential US-North Korean deal and unilateral withdrawal of US forces from the Korean peninsula. Domestic debate in South Korea reflected these concerns at various points, following chronologically: North Korea’s ICBM test in July, Guam threat and missile tests in August, and sixth nuclear test in September. 

Pyongyang’s recent provocations came as Moon sought to solidify his “Berlin framework”—reminiscent of his progressive predecessors’ Sunshine Policy—which emphasizes improving inter-Korean relations and placing Seoul in the “driver’s seat.” Both progressive and conservative editorials were generally critical of Moon’s responses toward the North Korean missile and nuclear tests for sending mixed signals. While the former urged Moon to act consistently with his “Berlin framework,” the latter pushed for stronger measures such as the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons and even self-nuclearization.


On July 28, North Korea tested its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), called Hwasong-14, demonstrating a significant technical improvement. The test prompted the United States to send 2 B1-B strategic bombers and the Moon administration to deploy 4 additional THAAD launchers, which had been thus far delayed by an environmental impact review.

Progressive coverage of the event blamed the snowballing tension on all sides—including the United States—while suggesting that meeting force with more force will only aggravate the situation. A Kyunghyang article on July 30 articulates that the purpose of a North Korean missile launch is not to instigate war, but to pressure the United States to concede to a deal under Pyongyang’s terms. While criticizing China’s unwillingness to rein in Pyongyang, the article also questions the right of the United States to blame China—a game that only serves to rekindle Cold War sentiments. By claiming that the foundation of the crisis lies in US-North Korean conflict, Kyunghyang implies that Washington bears a greater brunt of responsibility than Beijing. In conclusion, the article urges the Moon administration to take a principled stance, in particular on THAAD, stating that the additional launchers should stay temporarily as promised and that the environmental review must be followed through.

A Hankyoreh article on July 31 takes a similar, albeit moderated position. It argues that pursuing pressure tactics such as deploying further THAAD launchers and imposing unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang gives it an excuse to declare Seoul’s overtures for dialogue as disingenuous. In addition, Hankyoreh notes, criticizing the conservatives, that there are various calls for reintroduction of tactical nuclear weapons, permanent deployment of US strategic assets, and targeted strikes against North Korea. If this belligerent rhetoric is realized, Cold War-style conflict between the United States and China is inevitable, with Japan and South Korea backing the former and Russia and North Korea supporting the latter. In this rapidly polarizing environment, Hankyoreh encourages Seoul to assume the role of a mediator, echoing Moon’s desire to place Seoul in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to deciding the fate of the Korean Peninsula.

In contrast, conservative coverage emphasized North Korea’s intransigence and advocated for a maximum pressure approach. A Kookmin article on July 30 claims that the objective of North Korea’s ICBM development is to put in doubt the viability of the US-South Korean alliance. The assumption underlying this is that the United States, if directly threatened, will hesitate to support South Korea militarily. The article argues that Kim’s calculation is mistaken, however; the ICBM test, in effect, drew the Trump and Moon administrations closer, by compelling a swift deployment of THAAD, the suspension of which had been a cause of bilateral friction. The article concludes that the US-South Korean decision to seek a more aggressive front is entirely appropriate.

A Chosun article on July 31 is less dismissive about North Korea’s calculations, raising serious concerns about “Korea passing.” If North Korea becomes a nuclear state, Chosun argues that the future of the Korean Peninsula will be determined by US-North Korean terms, which may include an end to the US-South Korean alliance, withdrawal of US forces, or even demilitarization of South Korea. The article also recognizes that, although less probable, the Trump administration may attempt a preventive strike, the devastation of which will be principally borne by South Korea. Given the two highly undesirable scenarios, Chosun asserts that Seoul must fundamentally change in its approach to Pyongyang. Balancing against the North’s nuclear threat is a priority—either by redeploying US tactical nuclear weapons or by developing South Korea’s own nuclear arsenal—which cannot be further derailed by groundless hopes of dialogue.

UN Security Council Resolution 2371

On August 5, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2371 in response to North Korea’s two ICBM tests in July. The new resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood, and prohibits employment of additional North Korean workers. If properly enforced, the toughened sanctions could cost Pyongyang approximately $1 billion per year—a third of its foreign income. In general, South Korean domestic opinion has been skeptical about the effectiveness of international sanctions against North Korea as a means to impede its nuclear and missile programs—and Resolution 2371 is no exception. Focusing on the doubtful prospects of Chinese and, to a lesser degree, Russian participation, both progressive and conservative analyses cautioned against relying solely on the existing sanctions regime.

Progressive coverage insisted on the importance of dialogue. A Kyunghyang article on August 8 stresses the increasing isolation of Pyongyang, as evidenced during the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on August 7, in which ASEAN foreign ministers—at the urging of Rex Tillerson—reiterated their “support for the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” Underscoring a notable change in the international community’s view of North Korea, the article asserts that dialogue is its only means of survival. A Hankyoreh article on August 6 discusses South Korea’s role in initiating dialogue with the North. Anticipating further provocations in response to the new resolution, the article calls upon the Moon administration to manage spiraling tensions. Even as Seoul participates in international sanctions efforts against Pyongyang, Hankyoreh argues the Moon administration must seek channels of dialogue by balancing its position between the United States and China.

On the contrary, conservative coverage blamed China for the failure of past resolutions to stop North Korea’s nuclear advances. A Dong-a article on August 7 points out that the new resolution fails to cut the North’s oil supply, owing to Chinese objections. The article argues that in the absence of an oil ban, the new resolution—however comprehensive—cannot prevent North Korea from conducting its sixth nuclear test. When it happens, Dong-a asserts, China will be responsible for having created this critical “loophole.” Likewise, a Joongang article on August 7 traces China’s history of non-compliance with the sanctions it helped enact, and criticizes China’s position on THAAD. Recalling Wang Yi’s protest against Kang Kyung-hwa at the ARF, the article asks: Isn’t it because of China’s failure to rein in Pyongyang that South Korea must now defend itself through THAAD? Furthermore, Joongang adds that Russia must realize how North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons will trigger a regional conflict, which will eventually frustrate Putin’s development priorities in the Far East. For the sanctions to work, all parties must adhere to their obligations faithfully.

Trump-Moon Call

On August 7—10 days since North Korea launched its ICBMs—Moon and Trump reaffirmed their commitment to US-South Korean cooperation through an hour-long phone call. South Korean domestic opinion regretted the delay in coordinating a bilateral response—especially given the Trump-Abe call on July 31—and questioned signs of fractures in the US-South Korean alliance. In this respect, both progressive and conservative coverage condemned Moon for sending mixed signals about his position.

Progressive coverage worried about Moon’s growing inclination toward a maximum pressure strategy. As a Hankyoreh article on August 7 suggests, Moon’s position that dialogue can only come with North Korea’s denuclearization is not dissimilar to the mantra of his conservative predecessors. The article criticizes Moon’s “two-track” approach to North Korea, in which the US-led international community is tasked with resolving the nuclear threat while South Korea is responsible for humanitarian issues including inter-Korean relations. This, Hankyoreh argues, renders Moon’s efforts toward dialogue halfhearted. Characterizing his recent decisions—deploying additional THAAD launchers and requesting from Trump nuclear-powered submarines—as inconsistent with objectives of dialogue and peace, the article reminds Moon that Pyongyang has always been provocative and uncooperative, and that its latest actions should not affect his policy.

In contrast, conservative coverage worried about Moon’s unrelenting fantasies of dialogue. A Moonhwa article on August 7 cites Kang’s proposals to improve inter-Korean ties at the ARF, which Ri Yong-ho quickly dismissed as insincere. Moreover, noting her secretive conversation with the Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi, the article raises suspicion that Indonesia may have been asked to play a bridging role between the two Koreas, as it had previously done under the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. The article remarks that these attempts could endanger US-South Korean relations and urges Moon to commit to pressuring the North. Meanwhile, a Chosun article on August 8 describes Moon’s “two-track” approach as hypocrisy: Moon cannot push for a dialogue on “humanitarian grounds” when it could lead to military concessions that would jeopardize ongoing efforts to disarm the North, and when South Korea will be the greatest victim should those efforts fail. Moon’s two-track policy is therefore neither right nor possible.

Guam Crisis

On August 8, Trump stated that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This prompted North Korea to respond by announcing its plan to strike Guam with mid-to-long-range ballistic missiles in mid-August and vowing an all-out war in case of a preventive attack. Belligerent rhetoric from both sides dramatically escalated tension in the region.

Despite the rising insecurity, progressive coverage framed the situation as auspicious for dialogue. A Kyunghyang article on August 10, argues that the crisis could be turned into an opportunity. Recalling past instances in which key parties returned to the negotiating table at the height of tension—Pueblo incident in 1968, Panmunjom axe murder incident in 1976, and the first nuclear crisis in 1993—the article encourages Moon to escape the vicious cycle of threat into a diplomatic breakthrough. Moreover, Kyunghyang interprets the supposed schedule of Pyongyang’s Guam attack as a signal that it is open to talks—that the United States has been invited to make appropriate overtures before mid-August. Emphasizing South Korea’s role, the article concludes by urging Moon to actively initiate contact with the North and seek compromise with the United States.

In addition, progressive coverage condemned the United States for aggravating tension in the region. According to another Kyunghyang article on August 14, although Trump claims to “respect” South Korea, his unilateral responses to Pyongyang’s provocations suggest otherwise. Indeed, the article states that while maintaining a robust posture is understandable, threatening military actions is not, especially without having consulted Seoul. Crisis management requires rigorously coordinating alliance posture: if the Trump administration continues to act unilaterally, it will beget suspicion and harm the legitimacy—and therefore sustainability—of the US-South Korean alliance.

Meanwhile, conservative outlets were apprehensive of the Moon administration’s passivity and lack of preparedness against the North’s threat. A Chosun article on August 11 criticizes Moon’s response to the Guam crisis as a “denial of reality.” The article suspects that Moon is yet to form a cohesive approach to North Korea. Seoul refused to convene a National Security Council (NSC) meeting “merely on the basis of Pyongyang’s rhetoric,” but eventually held the meeting a day later for reasons left unstated. Further, just three days after Moon explained his two-track approach to Trump—framing the North’s nuclear problem as essentially a US-North Korean issue—Seoul described itself as a “key party.” Chosun recalls Moon’s most significant flip-flop to date, namely on THAAD, and asserts that his aimless policy breeds censure from both the United States and China. 

Further, conservative coverage used the crisis to compel a serious discussion on South Korea’s nuclearization. Both Saegye on August 14 and Maeil Kyungjae on August 15 cite Park Sun-won, Roh’s former secretary in national security strategy, who recommends redeploying tactical nuclear weapons for at least 2 years to use them as leverage during a possible dialogue with the North. The Saegye article discusses Japan’s efforts to reaffirm the US defense pledge, including through its nuclear umbrella, and concludes that South Korea must seek similar assurances. The Maeil Kyungjae article lays out different options for Seoul to recover nuclear symmetry on the Korean Peninsula: 1) redeploying tactical nuclear weapons as advocated by the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), and 2) establishing joint capitalization of US strategic assets including nuclear weapons, as promoted by the Bareun Party (BP). The difference is that the latter will guarantee information sharing, joint decision-making, and joint command-and-control in case of use.

Trump-Xi Call

On August 12, Trump and Xi reaffirmed their commitment to Korea’s denuclearization through a phone call initiated by Beijing. The two leaders, however, demonstrated divergent views on how to respond to the North, with the former stressing the need to stop further provocations and the latter underscoring the importance of diplomatic solutions. Meanwhile, US media also reported on months-long contact in New York between senior officials of the United States and North Korea, revealing below the surface efforts toward dialogue.

Progressive coverage highlighted the opportunity the call represents. In particular, a Kyunghyang article on August 13 focuses on Beijing’s initiative behind the call, which was construed as a signal to the North against further provocations. In terms of the efforts in New York, the article notes that the channel had been cut off during the Obama administration and only recently revived to assist the return of Otto Warmbier. Given the diplomatic momentum, Kyunghyang urges Beijing to take concrete steps toward realizing the dialogue—for instance by sending a special envoy to Pyongyang—and Seoul to carefully craft its Independence Day speech as a means to reinforce its message of peace.

Conservative coverage, on the other hand, regretted the incompatibility of Trump and Xi’s approaches to the North and Moon’s continued passivity. A Seoul Kyungjae article on August 13 writes that Trump sought to pressure Xi by ordering a broad inquiry into China’s unfair trade practices, centering around its intellectual property violations. In response to Trump’s strategy of coupling US security and economic policies, Xi responded that it will only worsen their trade relations. While conceding that Seoul has limited purview over US-China relations, the article criticizes the Moon government for making zero attempt at engaging, or even staying informed (receiving critical updates from foreign media). Echoing Henry Kissinger’s recent op-ed, in which he asserts that South Korea must assume a central role in resolving the North’s nuclear problem, Seoul Kyungjae urges Moon to act more decisively.    

Moon’s Independence Day Speech

On August 15, during the 72nd celebration of Korean independence, Moon declared that there cannot be another war on the peninsula. Reaffirming his “Berlin principles,” Moon stated that no country can act militarily in Korea without the consent of South Korea, and more notably, that South Korea cannot rely solely on the alliance for its security. On the other hand, Moon claimed that any resolution to the North’s nuclear problem must begin with its nuclear freeze; assuring Pyongyang that Seoul will never attempt regime change, Moon proposed to cooperate on a humanitarian basis, through initiatives such as family reunions.

Progressive coverage supported Moon’s position as principled and persuasive. A Kyunghyang article on August 15 describes his calls for dialogue as well-timed, given that both Trump and Kim were exercising rare restraint following the Guam crisis. Noting the LKP’s portrayal of Moon as “idle,” and of his strategy as “begging North Korea” for mercy, the article also criticizes the opposition party for being uncooperative. A Hankyoreh article on August 15 echoes Kyunghyang’s assessment of Moon’s speech, but expresses disappointment that Moon did not introduce bolder plans such as sending a special envoy to North Korea.

Conservative coverage was more critical toward Moon’s strategy. A Kookmin article on August 15 states his unyielding gesture for dialogue is at best ill-timed, and at worst, out of touch with the reality: North Korea releases a photo of a map that traces its missile targets in South Korea, and yet, Moon suggests participating in the Winter Olympics together. Further, while admitting that Seoul’s leadership and peaceful resolution are two important principles, the article argues that Moon lacks specific plans to execute his strategy. Like most conservative outlets, Kookmin asserts that South Korea needs concrete tools to counter the North’s threat, including in the context of a military conflict.

Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises

On August 21, the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercises began despite the heightened tension following the North’s Guam threat. The total number of US troops participating in the exercises decreased by 7,500 compared to last year. In addition, the exercises did not involve any strategic assets including B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers, or nuclear submarines. Progressive coverage, including Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang editorials on August 20, suggested that scaling down the exercises was a responsible decision, and that Seoul and Washington should use this gesture to transform the atmosphere into one that is more conducive to dialogue. In contrast, conservative coverage such as Kookminon August 20 noted that Pyongyang did not recognize such a “signal,” citing its official response in state newspaper No-dong that UFG “will only aggravate the situation like adding fire to oil.” 

SRBM and IRBM tests

On August 29, North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan in response to the UFG exercises. The test came just three days after it launched 3 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) into the East Sea, which the Moon administration dismissed as a “strategically limited” reaction that signaled the North’s growing willingness to talk. The IRBM launch not only debunked Seoul’s interpretation of the SRBM test, but also was distinguished from previous instances in that it hinted, with greater plausibility, of the North’s ability to strike US territories. South Korea reacted by staging a military exercise involving four F-15 fighter jets and eight MK-84 bombers, as well as releasing a video depicting the firing of its own ballistic missile, Hyunmoo-2.

Progressive coverage contended that Moon’s Berlin framework would not constitute a “strategy” if it were so easily disregarded in difficult times. A Hankyoreh editorial on August 29 argues that the objective of the North’s latest provocation is to raise the stakes to a situation where dialogue appears feasible, such that it can leverage up its negotiating position. Ultimately, as Kyunghyang article on August 29 broadly reiterates, what Pyongyang seeks are simple: 1) removal of existing sanctions, 2) a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula, and 3) normalization of US-North Korean relations—all of which help ensure regime survival both economy- and security-wise. Hankyoreh therefore asserts that even in the midst of continued provocations, the Moon government should adhere to its principles of peace and dialogue, rather than resorting to the tactics of the past decade, confronting threat with further intimidation and increasing the risks of conflict.

Conservative coverage criticized the Moon administration’s response to the missile tests by contrasting it to Japan’s reaction. A Dong-a article on August 30 observes that within 4 minutes of the IRBM launch, Japan alerted its citizens through its country-wide warning system called J-Alert; within 30 minutes, Abe also held a press conference to announce that he will do everything in his power to protect the citizens, and subsequently called Trump to seek reassurances of US commitment to Japan’s security. In contrast, it took 3 hours for Seoul to convene an NSC meeting—in Moon’s absence—and no calls were made with either the United States or Japan. Instead, Moon stated that “inter-Korean relations must improve in spite of the ongoing situation.” Lamenting Seoul’s naiveté, Dong-a concludes that its lack of resolution toward containing Pyongyang’s threat will ultimately render South Korea irrelevant even if dialogue does, one day, unfold. A Chosun article on August 30 also echoes such concerns about “Korea passing.”

Sixth Nuclear Test

On September 2, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test at the Punggye-ri site, claiming to have detonated an “H-bomb” miniaturized to fit onto an ICBM, much to the skepticism of experts. In response to the test, Trump tweeted that “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China,” while also admonishing South Korea that “appeasement with North Korea will not work.” On the other hand, despite calling the test “severely disappointing,” Moon insisted: “we will not give up and will continue to push for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through peaceful means working together with our allies.” Concerns about Korea scaring, bashing, and passing were at their zenith in the aftermath of the sixth nuclear test.

In the immediate term, progressive coverage pleaded for North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal and return to dialogue. A Kyunghyang article on September 3 asserts that increasing international isolation—including by its long-time ally, China—threatens the sustainability of the regime, which is Pyongyang’s principal objective. Further, a Hankyoreh article argues that Pyongyang is mistaken if it believes that the United States will never embrace a military option. With each additional provocation, the Kim regime is delegitimizing Moon’s calls for dialogue and justifying Trump’s temptations toward military solutions. 

Progressive coverage also criticized the United States and China for “Korea bashing.” A Kyunghyang editorial on September 4 regrets Trump’s impulsive condemnation of Moon for his talk of appeasement; such “inappropriate” comments can lead to a serious strategic failure if they divulge, or even merely hint at, corrosion of US-South Korean alliance. In fact, the article adds that Trump is falling into Pyongyang’s traps by resorting to a blame game, expressly against a US ally. Likewise, a Hankyoreh editorial on September 4 criticizes both the United States and China for failing to stop North Korea’s nuclear development all the while blaming others for their own missteps. Their short-sighted pursuit of national interests remain the greatest impediment to recovering peace on the Korean Peninsula.  

Lastly, progressive coverage expressed disappointment that Moon agreed with Trump to maximize pressure against the North. A Kyunghyang editorial on September 5 states that staging military exercises is nothing more than a “temporary measure” intended to punish North Korea. The article also warns that redeploying tactical nuclear weapons—an option that is rapidly gaining traction in South Korea—will incur severe unintended consequences, such as fundamentally discrediting the long-fought objective of Korean denuclearization and triggering a possible nuclear arms race in the Asia Pacific. Indeed, a Hankyoreh article on September 5 observes that for all his talk of appeasement, Moon appears mostly interested in military responses, as demonstrated by recent decisions to (temporarily) deploy THAAD, lift limitations on South Korea’s missile payload capabilities, and acquire high-tech military assets. The article reminds Moon that, ultimately, dialogue is the only way to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem.

Shortly after the test, conservative editorials inundated the domestic debate, claiming—with unprecedented alarm—that the sixth nuclear test constituted “crossing the red line” and that all options should be contemplated. A Joongang article on September 4 declares that the traditional sanctions approach has failed, and that Moon must aim to stop—not control—Pyongyang’s nuclear pursuits, even if by imposing regime change or developing Seoul’s own nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, a Chosun article emphasizes the mounting probability of “Korea passing,” namely a US-North Korean deal, in which North Korea is eventually recognized as a nuclear state while South Korea is left to its own defenses. This concern is exacerbated by the incompetence of Moon’s “Sunshine” foreign policy team, no member of which has a military background. Chosun demands that Moon abandon his fantasies of dialogue for the safety of the 50 million citizens who are rendered hostages to the North’s nuclear regime.        

Ensuing conservative coverage stressed the importance of the US-South Korean alliance, as fears of “Korea passing” spread. According to the Hankook Kyungjae editorial on September 5, bilateral relations have been challenged by an apparent conflict of approaches toward the North. Trump even raised the possibility of abolishing the KORUS FTA—demonstrating yet again his propensity to tie economic and security matters—to coerce Moon to acquiesce to the US-led maximum pressure strategy against North Korea. Such signs of discord, Joongang argues on September 5, may lead Pyongyang to judge that the US-South Korean alliance will not last—nor the sanctions it currently imposes—validating its belief that nuclear development ensures its survival. Joongang thus urges Moon to reinforce the weakened alliance.

Moon-Putin Summit

On September 6, Moon met with Putin in Vladivostok. The two strongly condemned North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, though Putin expressed reservations about the effectiveness of coercing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal through sanctions and pressure. Progressive coverage, such as a Kyunghyang article on September 6, stressed the importance of Russia’s role, in particular as sanctions against North Korea toughened and South Korea’s relations with China deteriorated over THAAD. Taking a harsher tone, conservative coverage highlighted Russia’s refusal to cut its oil supply to North Korea on humanitarian grounds, which Chosun on September 7 characterizes as hypocritical, arguing that Moscow’s failure to rein in Pyongyang materially endangers 50 million South Korean citizens. Conservative outlets also claimed that Putin’s interests lie in great power dynamics: the North Korean nuclear problem is a useful card for Moscow, which welcomes US retrenchment in Asia but remains cautious about China’s control of the region.

THAAD and China

On September 7, the Moon administration deployed 4 additional THAAD launchers. The defense ministry released a statement depicting the measure as necessary for the safety of the South Korean citizens amid the North’s escalating threat. The statement added that the fate of the “temporary rollout” will be determined on the basis of the promised environmental review. Fourteen months since the controversial decision was made, South Korea completed the THAAD installation as agreed with the United States—much to the chagrin of progressive observers and the delight of conservative counterparts.

Progressive coverage heavily criticized Moon’s sudden reversal of position on THAAD. A Kyunghyang article on September 7 recalls that during the election campaign, Moon promised to: 1) assess the process behind the Park administration’s decision to deploy THAAD; 2) reach consensus on the terms of its installation at the national assembly level; and 3) conduct an environmental impact review. None of these promises has been met. The article also urges Moon to reconsider the strategic value of THAAD, especially vis-à-vis China, as its retaliation is likely to intensify. In this respect, a Hankyoreh article on September 7 argues that—more ominous than its retaliation—THAAD may prompt Beijing to stop cooperating with Seoul on the North Korean nuclear issue. Hankyoreh asserts that merely framing THAAD as an “indispensable” measure does little to convince the public or the concerned neighbors, and demands that Moon undertake a thorough study of THAAD’s strategic worth.   

Conservative coverage welcomed Moon’s belated acceptance of THAAD, and encouraged a stronger stance against China. A Saegye article on September 8 questions the logic behind China’s retaliation, arguing that THAAD is a fundamentally defensive system, the need for which is heightened by China’s continued reluctance to rein in Pyongyang. A Moonhwa article on September 7 goes further to claim that THAAD is necessary for protecting the United States, the responsibility of which South Korea shares as an ally. Given the great power rivalry, any strategic weapons system deployed by a US ally in China’s proximity will arouse its fierce protests. This, the article admits, is the cost of the US-South Korean alliance, which Moon must acknowledge and embrace to avoid sending any further mixed signals.  

UN Security Council Resolution 2375

On September 11, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2375 in response to North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. The latest resolution bans, among other things, the supply of natural gas liquids to North Korea and export of its textiles. Notably, however, oil supply was not included due to unremitting objections from China and Russia. Both progressive and conservative coverage regretted the limitations of the international sanctions regime in curtailing the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Nonetheless, progressive outlets such as Hankyorehon September 12 pressed Moon to identify ways other than sanctions to incentivize Pyongyang to return to talks, whereas conservative coverage, including Kookmin on September 12, pushed for more unilateral measures to coerce Pyongyang, namely a more aggressive US-South Korea-Japan sanctions regime against North Korea and secondary boycotts against China and Russia. Indeed, the key distinction was that progressives saw sanctions as a fundamentally misdirected strategy, while the conservatives deemed them simply too weak to be effective.