September 27, 2021 13:15
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister Yo-jong has said peace talks with South Korea are possible if the North is shown "respect." "I think that only when impartiality and the attitude of respecting each other are maintained, can there be smooth understanding between the North and the South," she said last Saturday. A day earlier she dangled the prospect of accepting President Moon Jae-in's offer to declare a formal end to the Korean War before him if the South abandons its "hostile policy."
This is clearly an olive branch with strings attached, but what are the strings? Kim Yo-jong claimed that the North's test launches of cruise and ballistic missiles aimed at South Korea were acts of "self-defense" even though North Korea is racing ahead with its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at a pace that has alarmed the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Senate. But the North is telling Moon to keep silent about that if he wants to another photo-op before his term ends. North Korea's Foreign Ministry cited the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and strengthened Seoul-Washington alliance as examples of "hostile"policies, and Kim Yo-jong alluded to the South's development of its own submarine-launched ballistic missiles, as if they were the equivalent of its nuclear arms program.
Kim Yo-jong cannot help sneering. "Smiling a forced smile, reading the declaration of the termination of the war, and having photos taken could be essential for somebody," she said perceptively, referring to Moon. She knows perfectly well that Moon is desperate for a diplomatic coup to save his party at the next election. In July, North Korea reopened an inter-Korean hotline and demanded a halt to joint military exercises with the U.S., and the South duly slashed the number of participating troops to a twelfth the size of the drill held in 2017. North Korea still protested and stopped taking calls. Knowing Moon to be desperate, the North wants more, including an easing of sanctions. The Unification Ministry already pledged to provide W10 billion to civilian cross-border projects (US$1=W1,180).
But it is North Korea's nuclear weapons that have been the root cause of tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the last 30 years. The North tried to overpower the South with nuclear weapons ever since nation founder Kim Il-sung was in power, and now those efforts have reached fruition. All that is lacking is formal international recognition of the North as a nuclear power. Moon said, "When the parties involved in the Korean War stand together and proclaim an end to the war, I believe we can make irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era of complete peace." But Kim Yo-jong made no mention of denuclearization and instead described the North's weapons of mass destruction as means of self-defense and demanded South Korea respect it. In other words, she wants North Korea to be recognized as a nuclear power. What does that have to do with peace?
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