By Karan Kochhar
In a world driven by megalomaniacs and capricious leaders, an exchange characterised by rationality and diplomacy is rare—especially if it concerns the Korean Peninsula. In a televised speech by the leader of the rogue nation, North Korea—or rather, the rogue leader of North Korea—to everyone’s surprise, mentioned the opening of diplomatic channels with South Korea. After a flurry of aggressive missile tests in the face of tough international sanctions last year, Kim Jong Un said he would consider sending a delegation for the Winter Olympics to be held in South Korea next month.
After the two Korean nations established contact via a hotline earlier this week, North Korea accepted South Korea’s invitation to hold talks on 9th January. The last time the two nations had engaged in official communication was in December 2015. According to a South Korean official, the agenda would be to discuss the North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics and inter-Korean relationship.
Mount Kumgang: A thorn in the Korean Peninsula
Back in 2015, both sides negotiated to end the armed confrontation. The nations opened talks with North Korea insisting resumption of South’s participation in Mount Kumgang tours.
Mount Kumgang is a special administrative region of North Korea and a lucrative source of hard foreign currency for the cash-starved nation. The place has a significant connotation for the dwindling inter-Korean relationship, as it houses the Kumgang culture centre—a place where families separated in the Korean war meet. However, in 2008, South Korea banned its citizens from visiting the region when a 53-year old South Korean woman was shot by a North Korean soldier.
While discussing the resumption of tourism in the Mount Kumgang region in the 2015 talks, South Korea aggressively pressed on security for its citizens. The talks, however, broke down with Pyongyang blaming Seoul for its unfair assertions.
A digression from the Sunshine policy
Despite being handed out a rare opportunity to engage in official talks with North Korea, South Korea’s president Moon Jae-In said that though he would try to strengthen relations with North Korea, he would adopt a tougher stance than his predecessors did—essentially digressing from the Sunshine policy. “I will”, the South Korean president said, “push for dialogue and pursue peace, but will do so on the basis of a strong national defence capability”.
The conservatives in South Korea remain deeply sceptical of the Sunshine policy of Moon Jae-In’s two predecessors, Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun. The two progressive leaders encouraged trade, in addition to financial aid to the North, in hopes of de-escalating nuclear tensions in the peninsular region. The shipments and largesse bought a rare peace in the region despite failing to halt the North’s nuclear ambition. The conservatives believed Moon Jae-In will revive the Sunshine policy, a notion he has staunchly dispelled.
Potential conflict point for the meeting
The two things that North Korea identifies itself with are an aggressive nuclear programme and an erratic leader. Considering this, the opening of diplomatic channels is a welcome change. However, the past serves us as a reminder that the official engagements have not led the path of cooperation in the troubled region.
As the talks to discuss the Winter Olympics between the two nations are to start next week, both the parties will have to be circumspect while dealing in certain areas. South Korea is already adamant that it will not allow North Korea to violate any sanction during the Olympics and will not tolerate any blacklisted senior official leading the North Korean Olympic delegation.
However, the larger goal should be to establish a stable region devoid of any armed conflicts, nuclear missiles. There should be the promotion of cooperation between nations so intrinsically linked by culture and geography.
Featured Image Source: Flickr
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