Experts: DPRK–South Korea relations not to improve quickly, but dialogue extremely important
15 January 2018. PenzaNews. The first inter-Korean talks of high-ranking officials were held in over 2 years at the border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday, January 9. The main topic of the consultations was initially the question of North Korean participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but the agenda was somewhat expanded.
During the meeting, the representatives of Seoul and Pyongyang discussed the problem of families separated by the national split and the possibility of resuming dialogue in various spheres, including military.
The international community welcomed the talks between the DPRK and South Korea. Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed that China supports these ties and welcomes further promotion of a peaceful solution for the Korean Peninsula crisis, while US President Donald Trump expressed the hope that the talks “will lead to success for the world.”
Moscow also expressed hope that “all interested parties will support the steps of the North and South of Korea to resume the dialogue,” since it was the only possible way to resolve the issue in political and diplomatic manner, the Russian foreign ministry said.
Commenting on the last meeting, Clive Williams from the Australian National University said that both sides of the conflict stand to gain from a more tolerant relationship, and that was why they did not confine themselves to the discussion of the Olympic Games.
“The meeting lead to talks about other issues, such as family reunion visits. North Korea will want to keep the US from participating in any future talks as it does not trust the US. This is based on its past experience of unkept US commitments and what it sees as US perpetuation of the ‘puppet government’ in the southern part of Korea,” the expert told PenzaNews.
In his opinion, the atmosphere in the lead up to the Olympics looks promising.
“Neither South Korea nor Japan trust North Korea, but North Korea's main concern is being attacked by the US. That is why it is developing its nuclear deterrent. Pyongyang is not focused on attacking regional countries, like South Korea and Japan, except perhaps in retaliation for a US attack,” Clive Williams said.
However, our expectations should not by too high, he said.
“If the North Korean delegation feels slighted or insulted, or its athletes defect, we could be back to square one. On the other hand, if the Korean athletes march harmoniously under a common banner and the North Korean athletes do well, it could all be very positive for the future relationship,” the Australian analyst explained.
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, Senior Visiting Fellow should not expect with the Japan Institute of International Affairs based in Tokyo, also said that we any great break through on the most sensitive issues.
“The climate for this continues to be difficult as Pyongyang wants to continue to build its deterrent and likely will look to seize and talks and movement with ROK to wedge itself in between the US and its ally,” the expert explained.
The ROK-DPRK talks should be welcomed as an incremental step in right direction, he said.
“But it is important to remember they are still narrowly focused and serve more as an icebreaker discussion considering the change of leadership in Seoul recently and the escalating tensions,” Jonathan Berkshire Miller stressed.
In turn, Denny Roy, Senior Fellow, East-West Center, said that observers got over-excited about small signs of possible progress.
“It is true that talks between North and South Korean delegates about the Olympics might lead to progress on more important matters, and therefore we should support the talks. North Korea is less likely to carry out nuclear or missile tests while talks are underway, and perhaps they might extend an unannounced moratorium throughout the Olympics,” the expert said.
It is also constructive that Pyongyang is willing to talk to Seoul, which the North Korean government usually avoids, he added.
“It is possible that cooperation in an easy area such as sports might help build an atmosphere of trust that could lead to other kinds of North-South cooperation. On the other hand, competing together in the Olympics and cooperating together on the Apollo-Soyuz space mission did not end the Cold War between the USA and the USSR,” Denny Roy said.
According to him, Pyongyang’s motivation for participating in the North-South talks is most likely a desire to encourage the liberal South Korean government to take a strong stand against the United States contemplating preventive military action toward the DPRK.
“If this interpretation is correct, then whether or not this is a positive development for regional peace depends on how you feel about North Korea eventually getting a nuclear missile. It is a question of which danger you fear more: a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula to prevent the DPRK from getting this capability, or North Korea successfully achieving this capability. Americans would generally answer this question differently than Chinese, Russians and South Koreans,” the analyst added.
Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, with experience as a US Diplomat and US Marine Officer, said that the narrow, primarily sporting agenda of the talks would not be able to influence the bilateral relations.
“These talks will not improve the situation on the Korean peninsula nor do anything to dissuade North Korea from its drive to develop more and better nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. We've seen all this before. It's not the first time North Korea has asked to join in sporting events and held out the prospects of 'talks' with South Korea,” the expert said.
In his opinion, the South Koreans were glad to jump on the opportunity to some extent improve relations with Pyongyang.
“There's a sizable number of ROK politicians and citizens who actually think a negotiated settlement with North Korea is possible. These people are naive and sometimes even outright sympathizers for the Kim regime,” Grant Newsham stressed.
Two previous ROK administrations have attempted to appease North Korea – and provided hundreds of millions of dollars and huge amounts of food and other supplies. How well did this work? Not very well at all. The Kim regime is always glad to see what benefits it can obtain from ROK – and even the Americans, Japanese, and others – just by offering talks. The end result is a North Korea that continues to develop atomic weapons and missile delivery systems – while threatening its neighbors and the United States,” the expert added.
He called the inter-Korean talks “just a deceptive and temporary lull” as North Korea's ultimate objective to reunify the Korean peninsula under its own control has not been changed.
“These talks and the Olympics will only make some South Koreans experience some 'relief' that tensions have eased. But wait a few weeks after the Olympics are finished, and North Korea will once again start rattling its sabers and tensions will be where they were before the Olympics,” the analyst suggested.
According to Patrick Sensburg, German MP from the CDU/CSU fraction, the first talks after such a long time are a positive sign.
“The intention [of North Korea] to take part in the Olympic Games forcing both countries to a more respectful communication. These reopened channels give the opportunity to talk also about other issues like food supply or military de-escalation. The Olympic Games in this case can be a real door-opener for peace,” the politician said.
However, it is too early to speak about some significant results, he believes.
“Pyongyang has lots of pressure because of the economic situation. Many people are starving and more and more fishermen risking their lives fishing far out in small fisherboats. Many have been killed recently as reported,” Patrick Sensburg explained.
Nevertheless, the interest to take part in the Olympic Games can be a starting point to open an agenda of talks and new relations, he said.
“If there is a chance for a convergence process between North Korea and South Korea then the support of China, the US, Russia and the EU would be necessary. An understanding between them can have many positive effects for all sides. The question of whether the Olympic Games create peace in the region depends on the next weeks,” the politician concluded.