Seoul must not weaken stance on North Korea

opinion January 14, 2018 01:00

By The Yomiuri Shimbun
Asia News Network

It’s not as if there has been concrete progress toward resolving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The international community must not loosen the net encircling North Korea both militarily and economically.

South Korea and North Korea held a ministerial-level meeting and agreed that the two countries will cooperate to ensure the success of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. North Korea will send a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad, while South Korea will provide the delegation with necessary services.

The accords also include the holding of talks on reducing tension, to be attended by military officials of the two Koreas. North Korea has reportedly notified South Korea of its restoration of a military communication line with South Korea. It is important to reduce the danger of accidental conflict and the escalation of any such incident.

Emphasising the shared ethnicity of the two countries, both also agreed on a policy of continuing senior official-level meetings and sectoral meetings.

It seems that Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has put into full gear a strategy of winning over South Korea by playing its “Olympic participation” card. It was the first formal talks in almost two years between the two Koreas. North Korea had previously ignored proposals for dialogue, made by South Korean President Moon Jae In.

Without a doubt, North Korea is aiming to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea by appealing to the idea of reconciliation between the two Koreas. Sanctions on North Korea, such as trade restrictions on refined petroleum products, have had an effect. Pyongyang may also ask Seoul for economic cooperation and for a relaxation of sanctions in the inter-Korean meetings in the days ahead.

Something to be wary of is the fact that when the South Korean side proposed holding talks with regard to the denuclearisation of North Korea, a representative of the North Korean side rejected it flatly, saying, “All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles, are aimed at the United States.”

North Korea is pursuing an objective of holding dialogue, as a “nuclear nation,” with the United States and winning a US guarantee of being able to perpetuate its regime. There would be no change in the fact that Pyongyang is steadily advancing its nuclear and missile development programmes, even if the country refrains from conducting a nuclear test or launching a ballistic missile until after the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics end.

It is only reasonable that Moon, during a press conference on Wednesday, said that improving inter-Korean relations cannot be separated from the denuclearisation of North Korea. He also made clear that his country will keep in step with the international community in the sanctions against North Korea.

Moon holds up the reinforcement of his country’s interchange and cooperation with North Korea as the important challenges for his administration. There is strong concern among countries, including Japan and the United States, over the possibility of the Moon administration making excessive concessions to Pyongyang in its haste to improve relations. The US State Department has declared anew that the United States will continue applying pressure on Pyongyang toward the goal of its denuclearisation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said that Japan “will continually exercise maximum vigilance and surveillance on North Korea”, calling on the complete implementation of the UN Security Council’s sanctions resolutions on Pyongyang. It is vital for South Korea to maintain close cooperation with Japan and the United States in regard to policy toward North Korea.