New Year’s mes­sage from North Ko­rea

The Star Democrat - - OPINION -

Will the bru­tal com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship of North Ko­rea set aside nu­clear weapons and tr y to change?

North Ko­rea has duped the West be­fore with prom­ises of re­form, but things seem a lit­tle dif­fer­ent this time.

For starters, North Ko­rea has made real progress in build­ing a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with South Ko­rea. The Pan­munjom Dec­la­ra­tion for Peace, Pros­per­ity and Uni­fi­ca­tion of the Korean Penin­sula of­fi­cially ended the Korean War last April and started the im­por­tant — and long-awaited — push to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

When Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shook hands with Kim Jong Un in Sin­ga­pore on June 12, it was a mo­ment few could have imag­ined.

The pres­i­dent has been char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally ea­ger to ap­plaud him­self. “We’ve es­tab­lished a very good re­la­tion­ship. We’re given no credit for it,” Trump said last week at a Cab­i­net meet­ing. “Frankly, if this ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t take place ... you’d be at war right now. You’d be hav­ing a nice big fat war in Asia.” The pres­i­dent said he would like to meet Kim again ei­ther this month or in Fe­bru­ary.

The North Korean leader, for his part, sounds will­ing to con­tinue to move away from the dark­ness, and to­ward the light.

Daily English-lan­guage news­pa­per The Korean Her­ald re­ported on the dic­ta­tor’s an­nual New Year’s ad­dress broad­cast on Korean Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion. Kim called 2018 a “year of stir­ring events that wit­nessed a dra­matic change un­prece­dented in the his­tory of na­tional divi­sion span­ning more than seven decades.” And he said he is ready to do more.

He called for greater for­eign in­vest­ment. He spoke of ren­o­vat­ing and re­con­nect­ing the North’s rail­ways to the South. He said he sup­ports the re­open­ing of the Kaesong In­dus­trial Com­plex, which de­pends on South Korean in­vest­ment, and pro­moted the idea of re­viv­ing a tourism zone on the North’s Di­a­mond Moun­tain, re­sum­ing both pro­jects “with­out any pre­con­di­tions or price.” (As the Her­ald men­tioned, how­ever, this re­sump­tion “would most likely vi­o­late the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions that re­main in place.”)

As for re­la­tions with the United States, he echoed Trump’s in­ter­est in hold­ing a new sum­mit. “I am ready to sit face-to­face with the U.S. pres­i­dent again at any time go­ing for­ward and will make ef­forts to pro­duce an out­come the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity would wel­come.”

He did clothe all of this in a threat: He would “find a new path” if the United States con­tin­ued its ap­proach of ap­ply­ing po­lit­i­cal pres­sure and main­tain­ing sanc­tions.

What should we make of all this?

North Ko­rea’s long record of du­plic­ity ren­ders trust im­pos­si­ble. Some an­a­lysts be­lieve Kim is play­ing Trump for a fool, at­tempt­ing to re­lieve the pres­sure of eco­nomic sanc­tions while se­cretly build­ing up his nu­clear arse­nal. The United States should hold firm on sanc­tions while striv­ing for de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. China, North Ko­rea’s pup­pet master, must un­der­stand a nu­clear North Ko­rea is un­ac­cept­able to Amer­ica and its Asian al­lies.

Still, the con­cil­ia­tory tone of Kim on New Year’s Day was wel­come. It is a re­lief that the dic­ta­tor­ship is no longer test­ing bombs, fir­ing mis­siles over Ja­pan and threat­en­ing U.S. ter­ri­to­ries. Most Amer­i­cans would like to see the North Korean peo­ple be­come much more pros­per­ous and much less op­pressed. Peace would be far su­pe­rior to the nu­clear knifeedge Kim seemed hell­bent on pur­su­ing a short time ago.

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