July 08, 2014 12:47
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is out in Kangwon Province personally directing a military drill along the eastern coast. He is telling soldiers that the Northern Limit Line, which serves as a de facto maritime border between the two Koreas on the West Sea, is "under a constant threat" from the South and is looking for a chance to strike back.
But at the same time the North is extending an olive branch, announcing Monday that it wants to send a cheerleader squad to the Asian Games in Incheon in September.
North Korea already announced in May that it plans to send athletes to the Asian Games, but the latest statement came in the form of a solemn government statement, of a kind that has been issued only 10 times since the 1970s.
North Korea's true intentions lie in the conditions it attached. Inter-Korean issues must be settled between Seoul and Pyongyang without interference from outside forces; and its nuclear weapons are necessary to "guarantee peace and prosperity for the Korean people."
Pyongyang must feel seriously isolated as South Korea and China enjoy strong ties while Beijing is distancing itself from a belligerent Pyongyang.
With the latest visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing has begun referring to Seoul as a "close relative." China is seeking to bolster ties with South Korea chiefly to deal with an increasingly militaristic Japan, but North Korea must have been shocked by the friendly atmosphere that surrounded Xi's visit.
Over the past 50 years, China has been the North's sole benefactor and ally. North Korea cannot survive without supplies of Chinese food and oil. And now China has firmly clasped South Korea's hand.
The North Korean regime probably feels both a sense of betrayal and crisis. This has led it to make two contradictory moves -- conducting belligerent drills as well as making conciliatory gestures -- as it always gets particularly erratic when it is cornered.
The government has accepted North Korea's offer to send the cheerleaders but continues to downplay Pyongyang's request for dialogue, citing a "lack of sincerity." Its top priority remains to prepare against a North Korean provocation.
But it must also look for ways to resume contact with Pyongyang, which have been on ice again since the resumption of cross-border family reunions in February. Seoul needs to show North Korea that it could emerge from its isolation through dialogue with South Korea rather than by cozying up to Japan.
North Korea in turn must throttle back the histrionics and take a sincere approach to dialogue with South Korea. A good place to start would be to halt any threat of military provocations.
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