Sat, Mar 24, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Kim’s empty diplomatic maneuvers

By Sushil Seth

It all started with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, where North and South Korea fielded a joint team.

The event was attended by a North Korean delegation that included North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister. This led to a South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang, who were received with great fanfare by Kim and his administration.

They were conveyed a message from Kim that he was ready for a summit with US President Donald Trump to talk about denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which Trump has accepted, but added that sanctions against Pyongyang would remain in place until an agreement is reached.

It has all been so sudden, coming after the rhetorical, but dangerous, exchange of insults between the two leaders, with Trump deriding Kim as a “little rocket man” and threatening to unleash “fire and fury.”

Kim responded by saying: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.”

So what has led to this sudden change of the atmosphere? The severity of the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council is regarded as the prime reason.

The sanctions are starting to hurt North Korea, especially after their strict enforcement to prevent any leakage that has helped Pyongyang to circumvent the blockade. Even its ally, China, has put on the squeeze just short of completely cutting off its arteries, lest a complete collapse of the regime create more problems for China, such as an exodus of refugees across its border.

Beijing has welcomed this development.

“We welcome the positive signals by the US and North Korea about having direct dialogue. The Korean Peninsula issue is moving in the right direction toward its settlement,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said.

To suggest that the Korean Peninsula issue is moving toward its settlement is an overstatement, when even the parameters of the proposed summit are vague, to say the least.

China should know from past experience that even when it hosted talks to resolve the nuclear issue, they simply fizzled out. It is still not clear what sort of role, if any, Beijing would play to advance the process of dialogue, if it were come to that.

It must be said that Pyongyang has played its cards well so far by creating a semblance of North-South amity, starting with the Winter Olympics and using Seoul as the conduit to facilitate any dialogue with the US.

Although Seoul continues to insist, as does the US, that denuclearization of North Korea is the first order of any talks, it is difficult to envisage that Pyongyang would simply surrender.

Under Kim, North Korea has hastened to acquire the trappings of a dangerous nuclear power, even claiming that its missiles can now reach the US to inflict maximum damage. North Korea cannot be trifled with.

At the same time, if Pyongyang were serious about denuclearization, it would need to show some serious intent.

Pyongyang would believe that it has shown that intent by stopping its testing of nuclear weapons and missiles, as it did during the Winter Olympics and would likely continue during the summit and the follow-up dialogue.

This, in turn, might create a momentum to continue the process. Therefore, the first step is a moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

However, what might the quid pro quo be for North Korea? Pyongyang would certainly like a suspension of periodic US-South Korea military exercises that, it fears, are designed to overthrow the Kim regime. Indeed, much of its nuclear rattling is designed as a deterrent to any potential attack by the US.

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