Moon’s of­fer of talks brings hope of an end to im­passe

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

It re­mains to be seen how Py­ongyang will re­spond to Seoul’s for­mal over­ture for di­a­logue. Se­ri­ous talks, whether on eas­ing an­i­mosi­ties along their tense border or on re­sum­ing the re­unions of fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by the Korean War in the early 1950s, as Repub­lic of Korea Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in pro­posed on Mon­day, are long over­due given the an­tag­o­nism that has es­ca­lated and ac­cu­mu­lated over the years. The wors­en­ing state of af­fairs on the Korean Penin­sula has brooded a mood of pes­simism, so the new ROK leader’s pro­fessed will­ing­ness to en­gage Py­ongyang of­fers some cause for op­ti­mism, al­beit slight, since none of sim­i­lar past over­tures for di­a­logue, even hand­shakes, pro­duced any mean­ing­ful head­way in re­la­tions.

The Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea will be aware that Moon, while ex­tend­ing an olive branch, has never promised to adopt a car­rot-only ap­proach. On the con­trary, he has openly stated Seoul will con­tinue to ap­ply pres­sure so that Py­ongyang will re­think its pur­suit of nu­clear and mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Not to men­tion Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton, Seoul’s close al­lies, are call­ing for harsher sanc­tions. Im­me­di­ately af­ter Moon’s of­fer to talk, Tokyo ar­gued “this is not a time for di­a­logue; it’s a time for pres­sure”.

Wash­ing­ton has also stated the con­di­tions for di­a­logue are far from be­ing sat­is­fied, as White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news brief­ing on Mon­day, “any type of con­di­tions that would have to be met are clearly far away from where we are now.”

This should come as no sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing the July 6 joint state­ment the US, Ja­panese and ROK lead­ers signed on the side­lines of the G20 sum­mit in Ham­burg, which com­mit­ted the three to ap­ply­ing “max­i­mum pres­sure” on Py­ongyang.

Py­ongyang may be an­gry at what it sees as threat­en­ing saber-rat­tling by the United States, Ja­pan and the ROK. But it should not take that as a rea­son for not re­spond­ing or turn­ing down the over­ture from the ROK. Es­pe­cially since the win­dow of good­will may not last for­ever.

In mak­ing the of­fer, Moon de­fied pres­sure both from op­po­nents at home as well as from Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo. An unan­swered over­ture will not only dis­suade Moon per­son­ally, but also re­in­force the case of Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo that his pol­icy of en­gage­ment is ill-ad­vised. In that case, Py­ongyang will find its room for ma­neu­ver has sub­stan­tially shrunk.

While the vi­cious cir­cle of es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions has al­lowed Py­ongyang to con­tinue with its nu­clear weapons pro­gram, the risks stem­ming from that en­deavor have si­mul­ta­ne­ously grown.

Py­ongyang’s best course of ac­tion now would be to em­brace Moon’s of­fer, and get se­ri­ous about his pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing that of co­op­er­a­tion on the 2018 Win­ter Olympics.

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