Time to forget nuclear buttons at desks

opinion January 07, 2018 01:00

By Zhao Huanxin
China Daily
Asia News Network

Following almost a year of a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are threatening each other with nuclear buttons at their desks at the onset of the new year, which doesn’t seem to augur well for 2018.

On his Twitter account on Tuesday, Trump said that his nuclear button is “much bigger and more powerful” than Kim’s, hours after Kim said in his New Year’s Day speech that, “The entire mainland of the US is within the range of our nuclear weapons and the nuclear button is always on the desk of my office.”

For those looking forward to a glimpse of peace at the end of the long tunnel of conflicts and threats, such rhetoric is shocking. It means the situation on the Korean Peninsula risks degrading further into a vicious cycle of provocation and confrontation.

The situation took a new twist earlier on Wednesday, when Pyongyang reopened a long-closed communications channel with Seoul in Panmunjom, the truce village. The two sides will use the channel to hold working-level discussions regarding the North’s delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in South Korea.

Such efforts to improve bilateral ties and ease tensions should be applauded. In addition to that, Washington and Pyongyang should forget nuclear buttons at desks and come to the table for talks.

After all, the US and the DPRK are the two parties directly concerned in the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, and the contradiction between them is at the crux of the crisis.

The nuclear button mentioned by the heads of the two countries reminded many people of a talk by US State Secretary Rex Tillerson on December 12, in which he said, “I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops.”

Tillerson said the US had also prepared otherwise: “I’m going to be confident that we’re going to be successful, but I’m also confident Secretary [of Defence James] Mattis will be successful if it ends up being his turn.”

So far, the Trump administration’s policy on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue remains one that “all options are on the table”, as stressed by US Vice President Mike Pence again in a talk on Wednesday. Pence said that if Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions, “if they will dismantle those programmes, there’s an opportunity for a peaceable solution”, according to a White House transcript of his talks with the Voice of America.

The Korean Peninsula nuclear issue has lasted for more than two decades. As pointed out by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in late November, the most valuable experience in the process is that if all parties meet each other halfway to create a positive interaction, agreements then follow.

The most important lesson is that if some parties flex their muscles and misunderstand each other, the opportunities for peace will disappear, Wang said.

The New York-based Council on Foreign Relations has reasonably identified armed confrontation between the US and the North Korea as the top conflict to watch in 2018 in its annual Preventive Priorities Survey released early last month.

To prevent the spectre that the world would least expect, it’s important for all sides to exercise restraint and speak and act in a way that will help ease tension.

Instead of touting who has the more powerful button, let’s talk about who has the more powerful brain for reasonable solutions. It is already a hot-button issue.