Sen. James M. Inhofe returned from a recess congressional delegation to the Asia-Pacific region expressing doubts that South Korea’s leadership was adequately alarmed about North Korea’s nuclear program.
“I think it’s true that they’ve gotten soft,” Inhofe told a small group of reporters in his Capitol Hill office Wednesday. “They really didn’t feel that the threat was that great.”
The Oklahoma Republican, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, was also focused on China, which he heard in the region is viewed as being increasingly provocative and trying to expand its sphere of influence. He called China a “potential adversary.”
Regarding the Korean Peninsula, he said that even if if is likely North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, there should be concern for the potential that he is not.
“Some say he’s a crackpot, and others say he’s a genius,” Inhofe said. “He’s not normal, and he’s not predictable.”
In South Korea, the government of President Moon Jae-in has sounded more open to talking with the communists to the north.
And the presence of North Korean athletes at the Winter Olympics, as well as in cultural exchange groups like choirs, have seemed to reopen the possibility of a restoration of a “sunshine policy.”
Joint military exercises involving Japan, South Korea and the United States are on hold until after the paralympics conclude.
Inhofe, however, was backing the harder line taken by the Trump administration through Vice President Mike Pence and other officials.
At the Demilitarized Zone, Inhofe and a senior aide to the Oklahoma Republican said the CODEL, which included other members of the Armed Services committees on both sides of the Capitol, toured and were briefed on security matters including the response to last December’s defection of a young North Korean soldier across the zone.
South Korean forces demonstrated restraint in not returning fire as the North Korean forces shot at the defecting soldier, which U.S. personnel working in the area at the time said was fortunate because it prevented a potential escalation.
The full trip included stops in Guam, Hawaii and Alaska, as well as Taiwan and the Philippines in addition to South Korea and Japan.