North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong said in a discourse on Saturday that the two Koreas do not need to have an argument filled with all of nitpicking. Even with some strings attached, she implied a positive response to an end-of-war declaration and a fourth inter-Korean summit talk. Just three days after President Moon Jae-in proposed to declare an end of war in the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday (local time), she replied that it is an interesting and good initiative.
President Moon only repeated last year’s proposal of an end-of-war declaration in this year’s UN General Assembly with little change made compared to one year ago. However, North Korea delivered favorable messages to Seoul for two days running with Kim Yo Jong at the head as if it had waited for it too long. Such a dramatic change in Pyongyang’s attitude may be due to its domestic affairs as it is deemed that long years’ sanctions and COVID-19 lockdowns have deteriorated the North Korean economy. It seems to try to find ways to survive by engaging in dialogue as a last resort.
Kim Yo Jong set a precondition to the resumption of dialogue by calling on Washington and Seoul to stop applying a double standard in restricting Pyongyang’s military build-up, revoke a series of anti-Pyongyang policy and show mutual respect. However, there is almost zero possibility of Washington and Seoul accepting Pyongyang’s demands before they start talking. The North’s calculus may be to feel them out and try to get what they want as much as possible before dialogue resumes. Kim called the Moon administration to show palpable progress, which may intend to ask Seoul to persuade Washington to yield to its demands additionally. It sounds like a bargaining card that it used around the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games as the Beijing Winter Olympics is just five months away.
We should not make any mistake of breaking down a front of sanctions to lead Pyongyang to the negotiating table. However, what makes things a dilemma here is that we are not able to find the door to dialogue if we push Pyongyang unilaterally. It takes a closer level of cooperation for Washington and Seoul to implement policies toward North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea should stop shaking the other side’s tree before deciding to resume talks. It is Pyongyang which sees greater consequences of further delay in the dialogue process.