North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Pyongyang will send athletes, as well as—according to the official statement—cheerleaders, a group of performing artists, and a Taekwondo demonstration team, as well as journalists, while the South will provide materials and the necessary conveniences. This is the first tangible result of the meeting which took place Tuesday at Panmunjom, on the border between the two Koreas, the symbol of the armistice signed there in 1953, which appears to have reopened a dialogue which was suspended in 2015.
This initiative was born out of two sudden developments, and despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to complicate matters in every possible way. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has once again demonstrated the shrewdness and cynicism required to make the best use of the moment, going against the claims of those who have long characterized his actions as those of a madman. With the Olympic Games, Kim has seized an important window of respite, essential for someone who is preparing for lengthy negotiations, as he is. His regime is in some ways obtuse, threatening the whole region, but it cannot be said that the young leader is incapable. Accordingly, he made a clear opening gesture toward South Korea in his New Year speech.
And while a certain fool got hung up trying to start a nuclear button-measuring contest, Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, was on duty and immediately said “yes” to the reopening of dialogue. It was the occupant of the Blue House, a former civil rights lawyer, a liberal and a pacifist, who was born in the North, who was the real winner in this round in the “Korean crisis.”
He did not waver and immediately opened dialogue, organized the meeting itself and then offered the requirements for North Korea’s participation in the Olympics, which should also ensure the absence of any missile test or unforeseen development on Kim’s part. He may even go as far as contemplating “diminishing” the sanctions against Pyongyang, along with an invitation to continue the dialogue, including on particular military matters.
Previously, he had forced the U.S. to suspend joint military exercises to avoid provoking North Korea, creating a perfect atmosphere for Tuesday’s meeting in the “village of peace.” Of course, it is not an entirely rosy picture: Kim has been open to a break in the tension but has not yet been brought to a commitment to any real negotiations on the country’s race to develop nuclear weapons. The persuasive powers of Moon and the trust that Pyongyang has in him might not be enough to get to that point.
At that point, it will be necessary for China, which has been keeping silent as it knows it has been playing its cards right in recent months, to step up to a new phase of its diplomacy, negotiating not only with North Korea but also with South Korea, with which it is still in conflict over certain trade discrepancies, as well as over the U.S. missile defense system.
For the time being, Beijing has taken note of the new situation. The spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lu Kang, said that “as a close neighbor of the Korean Peninsula, China welcomes and supports the positive steps recently taken by the DPRK and ROK to ameliorate their relations. We hope that the talks will mark a good beginning in improving relations” between the Koreas. According to Lu, the negotiations could be a step toward reconciliation and decreasing tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The biggest skeptics are those currently outmaneuvered by this development: the Americans. It is no coincidence that the State Department spoke out to dampen any enthusiasm.
A State Department official said they didn’t know what North Korea intended to bring to the table. “Do they only want to discuss the Olympics, or also something else?” Trump said from Camp David on Saturday that Kim “knows I’m not messing around. I’m not messing around—not even a little bit, not even 1 percent. At the same time, if we can come up with a very peaceful and very good solution … if something can happen and something can come out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important, OK?”
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