Editorial

Game for talks: on the resumption of dialogue between the two Koreas

The prospect of a thaw in relations between North and South Korea, which resume talks after two years, holds out the hope of denuclearisation on the Peninsula. Lending the move diplomatic heft is the U.S.’s consent to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to delay the controversial joint military exercises between the two allies. These annual operations have traditionally caused consternation in Pyongyang. The significance of the U.S. decision can also be seen in the context of Beijing’s suggestion for a freeze on joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul in exchange for a halt to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The demand acquired added impetus ever since Seoul launched the U.S.-backed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system, raising fears that its radars could snoop on Chinese security infrastructure. But the idea never received serious consideration from the U.S., as forcing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean autocrat, to completely give up the programme was the singular focus of President Donald Trump’s approach. As for Mr. Kim, he sees recognition of his country as a nuclear power as a vantage point from where he could negotiate a roll-back of crippling international sanctions and a possible reconciliation with Washington.

The immediate trigger to the revival of dialogue is the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in South Korea next month. North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches and nuclear explosions have raised global alarm over the region’s safety for travel and tourism, not to mention security during the Games. Memories of the downing by North Korea of a civilian aircraft ahead of the 1988 Seoul Olympics have prompted understandable caution by the host nation. Seoul has apparently determined that the most effective means of allaying those apprehensions is to confirm the participation of North Korean athletes. The deferment of the joint military exercises with the U.S. lends further credibility to Mr. Moon’s overtures to the North, as much as it assuages Chinese concerns. Beijing had imposed an unofficial blockade on South Korean trade, tourism and entertainment following the THAAD missile installation last year. But it was quick to appreciate the needless economic and diplomatic cost of that approach, even if it did not alter its stance on the missile programme. Cumulatively, these developments should boost public patronage in the entire region for the Winter Olympics. Mr. Moon, a former human rights lawyer, has been a staunch advocate of a negotiated resolution of the North Korean nuclear stand-off. A votary of reunification on the Peninsula, he may be expected to seize the momentum generated by these events to foster cooperation with the North. There will no doubt be many obstacles on that ambitious path. But a détente between neighbours is a possibility few leaders can ignore.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 4:52:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/game-for-talks/article22378712.ece

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