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Seoul’s diplomatic and security capacity put to a test

Seoul’s diplomatic and security capacity put to a test

Posted January. 02, 2018 08:06,   

Updated January. 02, 2018 08:21


In his New Year’s address on Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed to have dialogue with South Korea. Dismissing the possibility of the U.S.’s waging war against him and his country, Kim blustered that “the entire mainland of the U.S. is within the striking range of North Korea’s nuclear weapon” and that “the button to it is always placed on my office desk,” while urging to spur the pace of the mass production and deployment of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. It is a diversionary tactics whereby extending an olive branch for dialogues to the South on one hand while threatening to reinforce nuclear capabilities on the other.

Since he took office in 2013, Kim Jong Un has used New Year’s address to strengthen his grip on power by encouraging and implementing the detailed goals he has proposed at the start of every year. This is not first time that Kim has presented both carrot and stick, but the latest speech is interpreted as a ploy to cause discord in the coordinated international effort to pressure North Korea by making a peace appeal to South Korea and using the country’s strong desire for successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympics and holding inter-Korean dialogues.

Of course, it is welcome news that North Korea, which has consistently failed to respond to the calls from the International Olympic Committee and the South Korean government, has expressed the will to dispatch a delegation, calling the PyeongChang Olympics a “good opportunity to boast the nation’s prowess.” Certainly, the IOC and the South Korean government must work hard to attain the goal of making North Korea compete in the Olympic Games. If we can persuade North Korea, which has used sports as a means of maintaining the regime and of confronting the international community, into competing in Pyeongchang, and if we can bring it back to the negotiation table, it would be more than ideal.

Though he presented the carrot of Pyeongchang, Kim Jong Un did not bother to hide his other intention. “Conservative power has broken down, and the ruling party has shifted, but nothing has changed in the South,” retorted Kim. Mentioning the phrase “sanctions and containment scheme by the United States and its followers” three times in his speech, the North Korean leader urged Seoul to disengage from the international front to pressure Pyongyang, saying, “The South must stop conducting nuclear war exercises with foreign powers and refrain from any activity involving the nuclear equipment and military forces of the Unites States.”

It is likely that the North will use the dialogue for dispatch of delegation as a means to make political demands such as cancellation of the combined military exercises of the United States and South Korea. “If the unstable political state that is neither war nor peace were to continue, the North and the South cannot guarantee success of the scheduled events,” said Kim Jong Un, which reveals his intention to use his regime’s participation in the winter games as leverage for negotiation. Kim must have taken into account the fact that the process of dialogue will likely stoke internal disputes in the South and cause subtle rupture in relations between Seoul and Washington. Rattling China, which has put some distance from the U.S.-led sanctions spree, would be another effect that the North has factored in. In fact, Chinese media outlets are churning out reports that shed light on Kim Jong Un’s message to participate in the winter Olympics.

Facing the increasing threat of the Trump administration’s military operation to remove nuclear facilities and the formulation of an international framework to impose sanctions on North Korea, Kim Jong Un must have chosen the Moon Jae-in administration as the weakest link to sever the chain of pressure. The South Korean government must draw up meticulous and prudent strategies to translate the North’s proposal of dispatching a delegation into Pyongyang’s participation in the Olympic Games, without causing discord in cooperation with the United States and the international community to pressure North Korea. The Moon administration is witnessing its diplomatic and security capacity being put to the test.