“You must have had a hard journey because of the cold,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said to her. “It was no problem, Mr. President, thank you for being so kind,” replied Kim Yo-jong, with a stern but sharp look on her face.
They exchanged the usual pleasantries of people who have not met in a long time, or have never even met at all. But, when we will look back on this moment 30 (or more) years on, these pleasantries will be seen as nothing short of historic. This is because the exchange of words took place between people who have just made it possible to organize an event that will remain engraved in our memory.
The dialogue between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un’s sister, the special envoy of the North to the Olympics in South Korea, officially confirmed the invitation that her brother had made to Moon to come to Pyongyang “as soon as possible.”
During this upcoming meeting in the North Korean capital, the city-sized showroom of the Kim family (who, we should not forget, are themselves millennials), they will talk about how to resolve the breakdown in dialogue, the result of the past year of missile tests and provocations by the North, in order to (perhaps) think ahead to more “peaceful” scenarios.
In this climate of detente, however, we must not get carried away by enthusiasm. After the handshakes, a lunch and a meeting between the two delegations, and Kim Yo-jong watching the “unified” Korean national ice hockey team (while it suffered a defeat at the hands of the Swiss team), we should keep in mind that Moon’s efforts are being undermined by the United States and Japan, while those of Kim are being undermined by none other than Kim himself, who seems to have fallen prey to his own public image of a cynical North Korean leader without much in terms of common sense.
Nonetheless, the invitation ended up being made. What “as soon as possible” will mean remains to be clarified. While we wait for the formal details of the trip, to be planned according to symbolic dates and the changing of the seasons, what counts is the gesture itself coming from Pyongyang, delivered by Kim Yo-jong, who has proven to be worthy of her rank of Politburo member of the Korean Workers Party by her determination, which was clearly on show even in the mandatory diplomatic photo-ops.
If this historic top-level meeting in North Korea actually takes place, it would be the first meeting between the leaderships of the two countries since 2007. The encounter between Kim and Moon (if it occurs) would be the third summit between the leaders of the two Koreas, after the meetings between Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, and South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-Hyun in 2000 and 2007, which also took place in Pyongyang.
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, has put on a masterful performance, always smiling and at ease in the role of the person who was able to resolve a difficult situation. He showed himself able to move between the issue of what is being seen as the number one problem in the world today, North Korea, and the two great powers which, between their pleasantries and apparent sophistication, have hinted, precisely with regard to the Korean peninsula, at what a confrontation between them on a global scale would imply: namely, China and the United States.
In truth, Washington does not seem very impressed with what is happening at the moment, perhaps fearing that these peaceful developments would ruin the business plans of its weapons manufacturers, the first fruits of which Donald Trump had promoted in his recent Asian tour. Maybe that was why Moon Jae-in, after Kim’s invitation, called on North Korea in turn to commence dialogue with the United States as well.
The “early resumption of dialogue (between North Korea and the US) is absolutely necessary for developments in the inter-Korean relations as well,” Moon said. According to the North Korean news agency KCNA, however, Pyongyang “has no intention” of meeting with representatives from Washington during the Games.
The head of the US delegation to the Olympics in South Korea, Vice President Mike Pence, had seemed to be leaving the door open for negotiations earlier this week, when he said that he had not requested any meeting, but “we’ll see what happens.” According to CNN, diplomatic sources with intimate knowledge of North Korea’s activities believe that, despite the positive outward signs and signals coming from Pyongyang, what is “unclear and bizarre” is that they have taken no meaningful diplomatic actions beyond gestures.
And, because the diplomatic efforts have been “almost zero,” these sources are saying all of this could in fact be “the calm before the storm.”
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