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Prospects for resolving North Korean issue remain vague

22:31 | 21.07.2020 | Analytic

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21 July 2020. PenzaNews. The DPRK is currently not ready for nuclear disarmament, but this does not mean that the country’s leadership will not take such a step in the future, said the first vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Kim Yo-jong in her statement released on July 10.

Prospects for resolving North Korean issue remain vague

Photo: Edward N. Johnson, Wikipedia.org

“We would like to make it clear that it does not necessarily mean the denuclearization is not possible. But what we mean is that it is not possible at this point of time,” the official Korean Central News Agency quotes Kim Jong-un’s younger sister.

According to her, the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula can be realized only when there are irreversible simultaneous major changes made by the US in parallel with North Korea; however at the moment Pyongyang is not interested in meeting the Americans.

“What is clear, though, is that if the DPRK–US summit is needed as someone says it would be needed only by the US side, but the DPRK should consider such an event unpractical as it does not serve us at all,” she said stressing that the need for a meeting will appear only if “the US shows decisive change in its stand.”

Meanwhile, Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested that Donald Trump could meet again with Kim Jong-un shortly before the US presidential election scheduled for November 2020.

“I think the ‘October surprise’ is quite possible. And the possibility of a fourth meeting with Kim Jong-un exactly fits the criteria for the ‘October surprise’,” John Bolton said in an interview with Japanese business newspaper Nikkei, published July 16.

In turn, First Deputy Secretary of State and US Special Representative for the DPRK Stephen Biegun said earlier that the United States will continue efforts aimed at a peaceful settlement of the nuclear missile problem on the Korean Peninsula.

He noted that the US supports inter-Korean cooperation, considering it an important component for establishing stability in the region.

“We look forward to fully supporting the government of the Republic of Korea,” the American diplomat stressed.

Another aggravation of the situation on the Korean Peninsula occurred on June 16, when the DPRK demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, calling it retaliation for the distribution of propaganda leaflets by South Korean non-governmental organizations.

Later, the general headquarters of the DPRK announced plans to deploy units of the People’s Army in the Kumgangsan and Kaesong areas, restore guard posts along the demilitarized zone and resume all types of military exercises on the border, but on June 24, the North Korean leader ordered the planned actions to be postponed. In South Korea, this decision was welcomed.

According to a number of observers, threats and accusations constantly voiced from both sides significantly complicate the state of affairs on the Korean Peninsula and create conditions for further escalation of the conflict. Kanishkan Sathasivam, Director, William H. Bates Center for Public & Global Affairs, Professor of International Relations at Salem State University, described the current situation as dire.

“Several weeks ago the North Koreans were actually prepared to roll the dice on starting a war against the South, and a combination of US military deterrence responses and Chinese pressure is what kept them from going forward,” he said.

In his opinion, the combination of US and UN economic and financial sanctions and fallout from the COVID-19 situation have pressed the North Koreans to the breaking point economically – they are clearly very desperate.

“They are also learning the painful lesson that possessing nuclear weapons may provide deterrence for you but they do not give you compellence power, which is to say, you cannot use your nuclear weapons to coerce some benefit for yourself from someone else, especially someone who also has nuclear weapons,” the analyst said.

According to him, it is impossible to resolve the North Korean problem at the moment.

“I honestly don’t see any path forward for improving the situation on the peninsula. The US Administration feels very cheated by the North Korean side, believing that they went the extra mile to try and provide a diplomatic path out of the wilderness for North Korea, but that Kim chose to rebuff those efforts and engage in gamesmanship,” Kanishkan Sathasivam said and added that considering this the US side sees no need whatsoever to give the North Korean side anything.

Masashi Nishihara, President of the Research Institute for Peace and Security, former President of National Defense Academy, linked the recent aggravation of the situation with the DPRK unjustified expectations.

“Kim Jong-un is disappointed with Moon Jae-in for not cutting ROK relations with US, for observing the UN and US sanctions against North Korea, and for allowing South Korea defectors from North to fly anti-Kim balloons across the DMZ,” the analyst explained.

According to him, the prospects of better relations between the two Koreas continue to remain vague and largely depend on the policies of all players in the region.

“The current bad relations between the two Koreas are likely to continue for some time, until the US, South Korea, Japan and other countries relax sanctions against North Korea,” Masashi Nishihara suggested.

However, in his opinion, the likelihood of a real war on the Korean Peninsula is low.

“I do not think that Pyongyang and Seoul will go into war in the near future. If North Korea should beak a war against the South, the US will go behind the South […]. The COVID-19 will keep Pyongyang from receiving aid from China. And North Korea will become even poorer,” the expert explained.

Denny Roy, Senior Fellow at East-West Center, expert on Northeast Asian international security issues, noted that the relations between the two Koreas have returned to their usual pattern of past decades.

“Pyongyang basically fears and despises the Seoul government. The Kim regime seeks to extort concessions from South Korea, not to reach permanent peace with South Korea. Nevertheless, occasionally Pyongyang will launch a temporary peace offensive against South Korea, either as another way of gaining concessions or as a show to gain more cooperation from either the United States or China,” he said.

“What we saw from 2018 to mid-2020 was another repetition of this cycle: several steps toward reconciliation, such as reduction of military forces near the inter-Korean border and the building of the Liaison Office in Kaesong, but all along Pyongyang’s purpose was to squeeze more concessions from a South Korean president who seems to desperately want improved relations. When they concluded Moon could not deliver, the North Koreans returned to their usual hostile posture,” the expert explained his view of the situation.

Commenting on possible ways of its settlement, Denny Roy stressed that the main problem lies directly in the nature of the North Korean regime.

“Other countries cannot solve this problem, only manage it. The United States is stuck with its old policy of permanent economic sanctions and political non-recognition, just like before North Korea had nuclear weapons. Seoul should reaffirm its policy of military retaliation for any military action by North Korea,” the analyst said, suggesting that China will continue to urge Kim to reform his economy along the lines of the Chinese model.

According to Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, with experience as a US Diplomat and Marine Officer, North Korea has threatened South Korea so often over the years that it’s hard to get excited about Pyongyang’s latest threats.

“While the Moon administration has done its best to ‘appease’ Kim Jong-un for the last few years, Pyongyang has not in the least reciprocated Moon’s self-abasement. That’s a lesson anyone in Washington or elsewhere pushing an ‘accommodationist’ policy towards North Korea ought to keep in mind,” the expert said.

From his point of view, the big problem is about the relationship between South Korea and the United States.

“I would say Moon has put the Americans ‘over a barrel.’ They’ve had to go along with Moon’s ill-fated effort to win over the North, fearing that doing otherwise might cause a more serious rupture with Seoul. Keep in mind that Moon – and particularly some of his key advisors – represent a slice of Korean society and the elite class that see the Americans as the problem that keeps the Korean peoples separated. These advisors practically seem like North Korean ‘agents of influence. One wonders how much harm they can do? And over time this has a corrosive effect on the broader US-ROK relationship,” Grant Newsham said.

According to him, as long as the Kim Family Regime is in power the prospects for better relations are near zero.

“As much as one might like to just be done with North Korea and leave Seoul and Pyongyang to ‘figure it out’, the United States has to stay engaged. […] One hopes the Americans keep sanctions on North Korea, and even better, applies so-called ‘secondary sanctions’ on Chinese financial institutions – the ‘big’ ones, not the little regional banks. In effect, give Beijing a choice: ‘You can do business with North Korea or you can do it with the USA. But not both.’ Yes, PRC-US ties are strained right now, but there’s still plenty of two-way trade between the two countries. A lot more than China has going with North Korea,” the ex-diplomat said.

“The PRC could of course solve the North Korea problem overnight by cutting economic and financial support for Pyongyang. However, Beijing has never shown the slightest inclination to do so – beyond creating the illusion it is ‘cracking down.’ Given that North Korea’s nuclear program, and it’s nuclear weapons delivery systems have been developed with Chinese assistance, that tells you everything you need to know about China’s ‘real’ interest in resolving the North Korea problem. They are glad to have NK as a distraction for Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo. Too many American diplomats never understood this,” Grant Newsham concluded.

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