No bet­ter time for Koreas to sit at talks table

Global Times - - Front Page - By Li Ji­acheng The au­thor is a re­search fel­low at the Re­search Cen­ter for the Economies and Pol­i­tics of Tran­si­tional Coun­tries, Liaon­ing Uni­ver­sity. opin­ion@glob­al­times.com.cn

At the be­gin­ning of this year, Py­ongyang launched a peace of­fen­sive with Seoul through North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year ad­dress. At the PyeongChang Win­ter Olympics open­ing cer­e­mony ear­lier this month, South and North Korean del­e­gates marched to­gether with a uni­fied Korean flag. The two na­tions also formed a joint fe­male ice hockey team for the first time. Kim Jong-un also dis­patched his younger sis­ter Kim Yo-jong to Seoul.

Kim Yo-jong is known for her po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. Be­ing her brother’s most trusted aide, talk­ing to her is like di­rectly con­vers­ing with Kim Jong-un. There­fore, South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jaein had a three-hour meet­ing with the North Korean del­e­ga­tion, in­clud­ing Kim Yo-jong, prob­a­bly over is­sues such as the nu­clear cri­sis, in­ter-Korean re­la­tions and the fu­ture of the Korean Penin­sula.

But Moon avoided a di­rect re­sponse to Kim Jong-un’s in­vi­ta­tion to visit Py­ongyang, calling for ef­forts to “cre­ate the right con­di­tions” for a visit. He also urged Py­ongyang to proac­tively seek a di­a­logue with Wash­ing­ton. Ob­vi­ously, North Korea’s at­tempts to in­ter­act with South Korea while by­pass­ing the US did not work given the close al­liance be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Seoul.

Thanks to the Win­ter Olympics, the two Koreas have come to­gether and are build­ing their mu­tual trust through di­a­logue, which is turn­ing to be a ma­jor start­ing point to­ward peace on the penin­sula.

How­ever, the highly an­tic­i­pated di­a­logue be­tween the US and North Korea did not take place. Although Seoul tried to sit US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong at the same din­ner table be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony, Pence only made a brief ap­pear­ance and left the re­cep­tion venue af­ter five min­utes.

Pence’s at­ti­tude was not sur­pris­ing. Be­fore his visit to South Korea, he had said, “We will not al­low North Korean pro­pa­ganda to hi­jack the mes­sage and im­agery of the Olympic Games.” He also said the US would roll out “the tough­est and most ag­gres­sive round of eco­nomic sanc­tions against North Korea ever,” adding “we will con­tinue to iso­late North Korea un­til it aban­dons its nu­clear and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams once and for all.”

North Korea has also not shown ea­ger­ness for talks with the US. Jo Yongsam, a se­nior for­eign min­istry of­fi­cial of North Korea, was quoted by Korean Cen­tral News Agency as say­ing, “We’ve never begged for di­a­logue with the US and it will be the same now and for­ever.”

The Korean Penin­sula is stand­ing at a cross­roads. If South Korea keeps post­pon­ing its joint mil­i­tary drills with the US in­def­i­nitely and North Korea keeps halt­ing nu­clear and mis­sile tests, the two sides would con­tinue their di­a­logue and can start dis­cussing the next topic – re­sum­ing re­unions of sep­a­rated fam­i­lies. Dur­ing the process, Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton can try to make some diplo­matic con­tacts.

And there may be an­other sce­nario. If South Korea is pres­sured by the US to re­sume joint mil­i­tary drills and Py­ongyang con­tin­ues its nu­clear and mis­sile tests, the penin­sula would again be en­gulfed in ten­sions.

In this sense, whether Seoul can per­suade Wash­ing­ton to keep de­lay­ing their mil­i­tary ex­er­cises is the key to turn­ing things around.

While the dual sus­pen­sion pro­ceeds, South Korea and China should en­cour­age Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton to talk and en­gage with each other. They need to con­tribute to mak­ing the cur­rent con­cil­ia­tory at­mos­phere last longer and help re­solve the nu­clear cri­sis peace­fully and si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­mot­ing de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and the es­tab­lish­ment of a peace­ful mech­a­nism on the penin­sula.

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