When a nation faces a security crisis, it is critical to swiftly convey information about it to the public. But the South Korean government’s communication with media and the public following North Korea’s latest missile provocation is disappointing.
North Korea fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the East Sea from Mupyong-ri in the northeastern province of Chagang on Jan. 30. It was the North’s longest-range ballistic missile launch since November 2017 when it first test-fired the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile it developed.
The missile was launched at around 7:52 a.m.
Four minutes later, at 7:56 a.m., Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida issued “the prime minister’s instructions in response to the missile launch by North Korea” to the Cabinet.
The South Korean government’s first position on the missile launch came at 7:57 a.m., a minute later, with Joint Chiefs of Staff sending reporters a text message that North Korea had fired an unknown projectile into the East Sea.
Regarding the North’s ballistic missile launch, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno called a press conference at 9:03 a.m. He said that a ballistic missile was presumed to have reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers and flew for 30 minutes to a distance of 800 km before splashing down outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Information about the instructions and press conference was posted on the homepage of the prime minister’s office.
At 9:07 a.m., four minutes later than the Japanese press conference, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff sent reporters a second notice that “the military authorities detected one projectile presumed to be a ballistic missile fired toward the East Sea from the Chagang region at around 7:52 a.m.”
There was no mention of basic flight data on the projectile North Korea fired.
At 9:25 a.m., President Moon Jae-in convened a rare plenary session of the National Security Council at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.
It was his first call of the meeting in about a year.
The meeting was convened 89 minutes after Japan’s prime minister made instructions and 93 minutes after North Korea fired the missile.
As the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept mum on the projectile’s data while the Japanese media reported the Japanese government briefing, the Korean media began reporting the missile launch, quoting Japanese press.
Moon’s remarks that Pyongyang is moving closer to scrapping its moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests were known to media at nearly 11 a.m.
Information on the latest North Korean missile launch is nowhere to be found on the homepages of Cheong Wa Dae, the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
At 1 p.m., the Joint Chiefs of Staff began a briefing in the Ministry of National Defense, reportedly at the request of journalists.
The primary target of North Korea’s missiles is South Korea, not Japan. And yet Japan reacted more quickly than South Korea did.
In his inauguration ceremony in May 2017, President Moon vowed to brief news media personally on major issues.
But on a day when North Korea fired its longest-range missile in about four years, the public got information first through foreign media.
It is hard to erase concerns that the government may be too easygoing and insensitive to North Korea’s missile threat. People wonder what President Moon and the military authorities did for 93 minutes after the missile was fired. Few options would remain for discussion if an emergency meeting was held an hour and a half after missile attacks in a war situation.
Public trust in the government is essential when a crisis arises, but the government could hardly gain it if it does not let people know immediately.