The challenge of turning inter-Korean thaw into longer-term detente

UNTV News   •   January 11, 2018   •   2603

Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon exchanges documents with South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018 REUTERS/Korea Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – A day of smiles and jokes at the first inter-Korean talks in two years quickly evaporated Tuesday night when the North’s chief negotiator threatened to walk out after the South Korean side brought up Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.

“We had started in a good spirit but this came to an icky mood,” North Korea’s lead delegate Ri Son Gwon complained in closing remarks.

His rebuke highlights the challenges that lie ahead for Seoul after the 11 hours of talks yielded agreements to hold military talks and facilitate North Korea’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attained his immediate goal of getting North Korea to participate in the games – and reducing the chance its leader Kim Jong Un would disrupt the event with another missile or nuclear test. But turning the winter thaw into a longer-term detente will be far more daunting.

To do so, Moon must navigate a volatile mix of mutually exclusive policies, including North Korea’s stance that its nuclear arsenal is non-negotiable and Washington’s equally strident insistence that complete denuclearisation is the only acceptable outcome.

Seoul has proposed that the two Koreas make a show of unity by marching together at the Pyeongchang Olympics. The last time they did that was in January 2007 at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, just three months after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

The first U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang followed that nuclear test and over the next 12 years, international sanctions ramped up along with North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear tests, a cycle that has left Pyongyang increasingly isolated. Along the way, six-country talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme became moribund.

Participation in the Olympics would help ease the North’s isolation. And Pyongyang may hope South Korea could resume desperately needed economic aid at some point. Moon, after all, was once an advocate of former president Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy” of reconciliation with the North.

“LARGER ISSUES”

Ri said he would not discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme with the South because its nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are aimed “thoroughly” at the United States, not at its “brethren” in the South.

Seoul believes improved inter-Korean ties and a series of steps agreed on Tuesday could pave the way for discussion of a “fundamental resolution” of the nuclear issue in the future, the South’s unification ministry said on Wednesday.

But the two Korea’s can do little themselves about denuclearisation “without having the United States on board,” said Hwang In-sung, secretary-general of the secretariat of the presidential National Unification Advisory council in Seoul.

South Korea should not repeat past failures where seemingly vigorous talks fell apart and ties froze in a flash, he said.

“Given the mistrust and high bars set up by both North Korea and the U.S., we will need to drive the experience from Pyeongchang when it’s over, in a way that contributes to the opening of nuclear negotiations”, Hwang told Reuters.

The two Koreas initiated sports diplomacy in 1957 in an effort to form a unified team for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That effort, however, ended in failure.

Culture and sports diplomacy between them since then has followed the ups and downs of their Cold War-era relations. The two countries remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce that has yet to be replaced with a peace agreement.

“Sports exchanges have their own limits given the complex dynamics surrounding the Korean Peninsula, but they can help rally public support and provide a boost for other serious issues to go forward”, said Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

A high point came in 2000, when athletes from both sides marched together under a single flag depicting the Korean Peninsula during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Even back then, Seoul’s offer of economic aid in return to facilitate such events was a source of contention in South Korea, which has lived with military threats from the North for decades.

“While the hope is certainly that these things will lead to further political developments between the two, such cooperation has often ended without any larger-scale issues being solved”, said Benjamin Silberstein, associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

“There are few signs to suggest that this time is any different, but it is still too soon to tell”.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Bill Tarrant

Pyongyang disinfects the city after North Korea introduced tougher curbs against coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 29, 2020

North Korea’s state-run television on Tuesday (July 28) released a video of Pyongyang workers disinfecting the city as the state introduced tougher curbs against the coronavirus, after it locked down the town Kaesong, on the border with the South, to tackle what could be its first publicly confirmed infection.

Strict quarantine measures and the screening of districts were in progress and test kits, protective clothing and medical equipment were being supplied, the North’s KCNA state news agency said.

The measures come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency on Sunday (July 26) after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the highly fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) to Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, KCNA reported.

Reclusive North Korea had reported testing 1,211 people for the virus as of July 16 with all returning negative results, the World Health Organisation said in a statement sent to Reuters. The report said 696 nationals were under quarantine. (Reuters)

(Production: Minwoo Park)

North Korea suspends military action plans against South Korea – KCNA

UNTV News   •   June 24, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has presided over a meeting of the ruling party’s Central Military Commission and decided to suspend military action plans against South Korea, the official KCNA news agency reported on Wednesday (June 24).

The video conference meeting on Tuesday (June 23) also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.

The committee members “took stock of the prevailing situation” before deciding to suspend the military plans, the report said, without elaborating.

Political tensions between the rival Koreas have been rising over Pyongyang’s objections to plans by defector-led groups in the South to fly propaganda leaflets over to the North. (Reuters)

(Production: Chaeyoun Won, Hyunyoung Yi)

North Korea blows up inter-Korea liaison office

UNTV News   •   June 16, 2020

North Korea blew up and destroyed an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong on Tuesday (June 16), South Korea said, after Pyongyang threatened to take action if defector groups push ahead with their campaign to send propaganda leaflets into North Korea.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Television reported that an explosion was heard and aired a video of smoke seen over Kaesong, and the South’s Unification Ministry said the liaison office had been destroyed.

A South Korean military source told Reuters that there were signs of the impending demolition earlier in the day, and South Korean military officials watched live surveillance imagery of the building as it was blown up.

Tensions have risen as Pyongyang threatened to sever inter-Korean ties and take retaliatory measures over the leaflets, which carry messages critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including human rights abuses. (Reuters)

(Production: Minwoo Park, Heejung Jung)

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