NK’s rec­on­cil­ia­tory sig­nals need US re­sponse

Global Times - - Front Page - By Zhang Yun

North Korea held a mil­i­tary pa­rade to cel­e­brate the 70th an­niver­sary of its found­ing on Septem­ber 9. It sent three im­por­tant sig­nals from this un­con­ven­tional show of mil­i­tary hard­ware.

First, Kim Jong-un sent a con­cil­ia­tory sig­nal to the US to main­tain the mo­men­tum in North Korea-US rap­proche­ment. Un­like pre­vi­ous pa­rades that dis­played heavy weaponry and had anti-Amer­ica slo­gans, the ab­sence of in­tercon­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles and mid-range mis­siles could be in­ter­preted as a pos­i­tive sign of North Korea’s con­cil­ia­tory at­ti­tude to­ward the US.

Sec­ond, the 70th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions seemed to be well co­or­di­nated to re­as­sure the US of North Korea’s sin­cer­ity for con­tin­u­ing di­a­logue. Kim wel­comed the South Korean en­voy on Septem­ber 5 for the third time and con­veyed his mes­sage of trust to­ward US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. He also clearly stated the time ta­ble of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion which falls within Trump’s first term. In ad­di­tion, Kim also sent a let­ter to Trump for sched­ul­ing a sec­ond sum­mit, which the White House praised as a very warm and pos­i­tive ges­ture.

Third, North Korea has sig­naled its shift of fo­cus from mil­i­tary build-up to eco­nomic growth. Kim Yong-nam, pres­i­dent of the Pre­sid­ium of the Supreme Peo­ple’s As­sem­bly of North Korea who spoke at the cer­e­mony, fo­cused on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. This has been echo­ing with Kim Jong-un’s re­cent fre­quent lo­cal in­spec­tion tours and calls for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

North Korea is try­ing to urge the US to re­cip­ro­cate its ges­ture to main­tain a fa­vor­able en­vi­ron­ment for con­tin­u­ing rap­proche­ment. Py­ongyang’s re­cent con­cil­ia­tory be­hav­ior needs to be re­cip­ro­cated. The US has failed to do so ex­cept in Trump’s oc­ca­sional tweets. Per­haps, the US thought that the unprecedented sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore be­tween a serv­ing US pres­i­dent and the North Korean leader would be enough to deal with the is­sue. Fur­ther­more, Trump’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior and Kim’s record have been re­peat­edly cited by skep­tics who doubt the rap­proche­ment will last. It is cer­tainly wise to be cau­tiously op­ti­mistic. But more im­por­tantly, it needs to be rec­og­nized that the Korean Penin­sula is head­ing for a grand trend that Py­ongyang is pos­si­ble to fo­cus on its eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in a phased de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process.

First, strate­gic ne­ces­sity brought Trump and Kim to­gether. The re­quire­ment to trans­form long-nur­tured hos­til­ity into con­cil­i­a­tion must be driven by strong mu­tual ne­ces­sity. Trump needs to show that he has been able to make progress on the North Korea is­sue for the up­com­ing mid-term elec­tions and prob­a­bly for his next pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as other ma­jor diplo­matic break­throughs don’t seem to be promis­ing. For Kim, re­lief from sanc­tions and the dec­la­ra­tion of the end of the Korean War would be im­per­a­tive for his strate­gic shift to eco­nomic growth.

Sec­ond, North Korea has made ef­forts to pro­vide strong proof for Pres­i­dent Trump to jus­tify a sec­ond sum­mit with Kim Jong-un. The re­turn of the re­mains of US sol­diers from the Korean War and the re­lease of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens were use­ful out­comes for Trump to hail his tremen­dous suc­cess. Kim’s re­cent let­ter to Trump for a sec­ond sum­mit would help the US pres­i­dent jus­tify an­other sum­mit that could also be a show­piece for his elec­tion cam­paign. A sec­ond sum­mit would def­i­nitely lead to more spe­cific and prac­ti­cal mea­sures com­pared with what was achieved in Sin­ga­pore.

Third, the ma­jor pow­ers in North­east Asia have been try­ing hard to cre­ate a suit­able en­vi­ron­ment for the rap­proche­ment. China has been qui­etly fill­ing the gap of loss of rec­i­proc­ity from the US. Kim has vis­ited China three times and Li Zhan­shu, a mem­ber of the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Po­lit­i­cal Bureau of the Com­mu­nist Party of China Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and Chair­man of the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress at­tended the pa­rade as Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive. This is a po­lit­i­cal recog­ni­tion of North Korea’s re­cent pos­i­tive ges­tures for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

On Septem­ber 18, Kim will re­ceive South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in Py­ongyang, which is ex­pected to con­tinue at­tempts at reconciliation by tak­ing a step in the di­rec­tion of direct US-North Korea ne­go­ti­a­tions. It has also been re­ported that Kim is go­ing to visit Rus­sia in the near fu­ture. Japan is also likely to re­sume di­a­logue with North Korea.

Rap­proche­ment be­tween old en­e­mies is not easy. Now is the time for the US to grab the op­por­tu­nity of trans­form­ing sym­bolic good­will ges­tures into con­crete at­tempts to bring about peace.

The au­thor is as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of Na­tional Ni­igata Univer­sity Japan and se­nior fel­low, In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Area Stud­ies and Global Gov­er­nance, Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity, China. opin­ion@ glob­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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