By Rutvi Saxena
In one of the most significant thawing of Inter-Korean relations, North Korea has agreed to send a delegation to South Korea for the upcoming winter Olympics. The high-level talks held on 2 January 2018 in Panmunjom-a “truce village” in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised village-marked the first diplomatic breakthrough since December 2015. The two countries have also announced military talks to “ease the current military situations” and “actively cooperate” in the games.
The North Korea contingent
The delegation sent by North Korea will consist of athletes, a cheering squad, an art troupe, a visitors’ group, a Taekwondo demonstration team and a press corps, a closing joint statement said. As of now, only two figure skaters from North Korea Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, have qualified to participate. With less than a month to go, North Korea will have to figure out logistics and participation with the International Olympic Committee first. Discussions also included reunification of families separated in the 1950-53 war, with South Korea suggesting reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays next month. It’s a remarkable event and has been received with optimism by the international community.
The five member North Korean delegation arrived at the border in a motorcade; both Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in listened to the discussion in real time and had access to a hotline to the peace house.
Bridging the nuclear distance
“South and North Korea have decided to make joint efforts for the unity of the people and reconciliation by establishing an environment for peace and easing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement read. Since occupying office in 2017, South Korean President Moon-Jae has made attempts to improve relations with North Korea. This seems to have proved fruitful, not only in the “peace Olympics” but the reopening of direct communication, which had been cut in the beginning when North Korea launched a rocket and conducted a missile test. South Korea seems to have continued it’s criticism of North Korea in this respect, with Moon Jae supporting sanctions against its neighbour for its nuclear activities.
Throughout 2017, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched over ten missiles and conducted it’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test, inviting stringent sanctions from the United States (US) which were termed “acts of war” by Pyongyang. This is one of the reasons experts have been skeptic of the “olive branch” being offered.
“We should keep in mind that, while they are competing in the Olympics, they will continue producing fissile material to make nuclear weapons,” said Chun Yung-woo, a national security advisor to former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who took a hard line on inter-Korean relations. “He’s a little bit cautious,” Chun said, “and I think that is right.”
Talks of denuclearisation did not appear to have pleased North Korea. Ri Son Gwon, who led the North Korean delegation at the talks said, “All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles, are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia.” He further warned that to bring up the nuclear issue “would cause negative consequences and risks turning all of today’s good achievement into nothing.”
The American outlook
The recent developments place South Korea in a precarious position between trying to maintain relative peace at the Korean peninsula and making decisions favourable to its American allies. Moon gave credit to the US for the renewed communication, saying, “They may have been the outcome of the sanctions and pressure led by the United States.”
The US, for its part, has expressed guarded support for inter-Korean discussions welcoming the diplomatic progress but insists on denuclearisation as the priority. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders commented on the Olympics agreement: “North Korean participation is an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearising.”
The US has agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after the Olympic games. President Donald Trump has shown optimism and called the talks “a good thing”. “I see a lot of good energy. I like it very much … So, hopefully, a lot of good things are going to work out,” he said, but also made clear that talks between the US and North Korea would only happen “at the right time and under appropriate circumstances.”
While North Korea’s willingness towards a discussion appears to be a positive step, its nuclear activities remain a bone of contention. With both sides adamant about their stances, it remains uncertain whether a resolution will be reached. The Olympic talks, however, bring us slightly closer towards such a reality.
Featured image source: Wikimedia
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius