THIS past week the world has witnessed a shuffling of the feet or a quickening of steps when in the seeming “turnaround” of the otherwise dire situation on the Korean Peninsula. After the sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un led a delegation to attend the ceremonies of the Winter Olympics held in South Korea and met the South Korean president during her stay, South Korea reciprocated by sending a high-level delegation to North Korea. The delegation was “warmly” received by no less than Kim himself, who even hosted a “convivial” dinner for the South Korean delegates, supposedly imputing messages to them over toasts meant for the South Korean president as well as the Americans, who remain larger-than-life strategically on the Korean Peninsula, essentially as the guarantor of South Korea’s security.
And the South Korean delegation wasted no time in conveying such messages. The world was somewhat mesmerized when it was announced that the leaders of both Koreas will once again hold a summit, but this time at the South Korean side (and thus to mark the first time that a North Korean top leader crosses over into the South). The whole world was caught by surprise, for as recently as late last year North Korea had tested both its missile and nuclear capabilities, and the leaders of both Koreas have not met since the turn of the century. But even that was not yet the climax of their whirlwind diplomacy to North Korea.
The same delegation visited the United States a few days later, and apparently President Donald Trump awaited them eagerly, sauntering into their meeting with White House officials, as is his wont with the impromptu. Then the unthinkable happened. Apparently, the South Korean delegation reported to President Trump Kim’s invitation to meet, and on the spur of the moment, Trump agreed to the meeting! He even left it to the delegation to announce this ground-shaking news. For a sitting President of the US has never before met a North Korean top leader.
And it would appear that President Trump made this momentous decision without prior or extensive consultation with his national security or diplomatic teams; at least the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, did not seem to be in the loop in this unprecedented move. It has been the longstanding US policy to demand the abandonment of North Korean nuclear ambitions as a precondition for any sort of open substantial engagement between the two sides (although there have reportedly been background channels to that effect), much less a summit of the leaders of both nations. The whole world is now wallowing in a sense of euphoria, first over the impending inter-Korea summit in April, and even more over the first ever US-North Korea summit in May. It is as if the whole Korean nuclear crisis, which has gripped the world for more than a decade, has suddenly seen the end of the tunnel, and is about to be resolved by the goodwill of the two summits.
I hate to be the spoiler of these “glamorous” parties to come in the next two months. For despite the seemingly substantial progress towards peace made over the past three months, as detailed above and in a previous article, I still have serious doubts as to the long-term viability of both the overall so-called “Olympic thaw” in the relationship between the two Koreas since the beginning of this year, as well as the prospects for the two forthcoming summits.
I was not even done with describing some of the more atrocious terrorist acts performed by North Korea around the world in years past. I can still recall way back in the 1980s, when the then South Korean military junta leaders made a state visit to Burma which was then also under military rule. North Korea saw it as an opportunity to annihilate almost the entire South Korean senior leadership. Its agents placed bombs at the Burmese national monument where the then South Korean President was to place a wreath. The bombs did explode, killing many Korean and Burmese senior officials, but missed the South Korean President who arrived at the scene late. And just early last year, the North Korean leader’s elder brother, Kim Jong-nam, was blatantly murdered with a chemical weapon in broad daylight in Malaysia at the instigation of North Korean agents. Such a bloodily brutal regime can hardly be counted upon to have suddenly repented and on its way to embracing peace forever in the future.
But there is what I consider an even more fundamental and perhaps guttural set of reasons for South Korea’s rush to “rapprochement” with the North, which is rather unsettling to me. The aforementioned former South Korean military junta was not surprisingly extremely right wing in ideology. They despised and were always guarded against the North, having fought the North bitterly during the Korean War. The then South Korean opposition, being oppressed by the junta, assumed a more left-wing outlook, placing inter-Korean reunification way above any perceived North Korean menace. After the South Korean democratization in the 1990s, the junta’s supporters morphed into the conservatives, while the previous opposition became the democrats. We will continue with the spoiler in the next column.