Chinadaily / On March 8, Chung Euiyong, the national security advisor of the Republic of Korea, announced that the US President Donald Trump had agreed to talk with Kim Jong-un, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This represented a stunning breakthrough in Washington-Pyongyang relations, especially considering the increasing size of the US-DPRK military drills and the war of words between Trump and Kim in the past year.
Peace on the Korean Peninsula is the common wish of the international community, which values Pyongyang and Seoul taking the opportunity of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the ROK from Feb 9 to 25 to thaw their relations. The Winter Olympics have thus provided a chance for Pyongyang to establish contact with Washington through Seoul. Meanwhile, the improved ties with Seoul can also help ease the military threat of the US-ROK alliance to Pyongyang.
Seoul has demonstrated its clear stance that it will spare no efforts to restore peace on the Peninsula through talks, but it wants the sanctions against the DPRK to be continued until an agreement on denuclearization is reached. Since February, the ROK has played an active role as a mediator between the DPRK and the United States, postponing the joint military drill with the US in response to Pyongyang ceasing its missile and nuclear tests, which was also a response to China’s “dual-halt” proposal for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The DPRK needs talks with the US in particular, to ease the stress on its economy and social stability caused by the stricter sanctions against it. The development of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which Pyongyang claims is capable of striking the US homeland, has become a bargaining chip for Pyongyang, and so it has delivered the olive branch of agreeing to talks with Washington.
The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy was aimed at maximizing the US’ advantages before negotiating with the DPRK to give up nuclear weapons. But the increasing sanctions seemed to reach a point of where there was a real possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula so that the international community doubted the US’ tough attitude toward the DPRK. Faced with the challenge posed by the DPRK and the need for political achievements for the mid-term elections in the US, Trump has accepted Pyongyang’s invitation for a summit on the condition that Pyongyang freeze its nuclear and missile tests.
So far, there have been joint efforts by many countries to promote the US-DPRK peace talks, which might make historic progress. However, the meeting which is due to be held by the end of May in a place and time still to be determined, has yet to be confirmed and there are many variables that might prevent the meeting happening. For instance, Trump tweeted that “great progress being made, but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached,” which might run counter to Pyongyang’s requirement that the sanctions be lifted. Meanwhile, the DPRK continues to release signals demanding the US withdraw troops from the ROK.
What’s more, Washington requires denuclearization of the DPRK, while the DPRK wants its security guaranteed. Although holding firm to those stances, both countries should make compromises－perhaps more from the US－to restore peace on the Korean Peninsula. Will the DPRK give up the nuclear development? If not, will the US accept Pyongyang to scale back or freeze the tests? The future of the proposed meeting is hard to predict.
The planned Pyongyang-Seoul talks in April will give more details and may help actualize the talks between Washington and Pyongyang in May.
To reach a peace agreement on the Peninsula issue, Pyongyang and Seoul must maintain the good communication achieved during the Winter Olympics and bring the US to the negotiation table. Then the negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have to produce concrete results to be effective so that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is more likely to be reached.
Therefore, for the peace on the Peninsula, not only Washington and Pyongyang should show more sincerity to the talks, but the international community should make more contributions to maintain the positive trend.
The author is a researcher at the Co-Innovation Center for Korean Peninsula Studies and professor of International Politics at Jilin University.