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Henry M. Robert

Why has North Korea’s rhetoric softened?

The leader of the DPRK is negotiating with China, is eager to take part in the Olympics, and is preparing for a meeting with Donald Trump
4 April, 2018 - 16:20
MARCH 31, PYONGYANG. SPEAKING TO INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE PRESIDENT THOMAS BACH (PICTURED LEFT), KIM JONG-UN PROMISED THAT NORTH KOREAN ATHLETES WOULD TAKE PART IN THE NEXT OLYMPICS / REUTERS photo

In late March, we saw significant diplomatic progress being achieved by a country which no one expected to do it lately, as only the most unpredictable turns in North Korea’s behavior were seen as likely.

Firstly, on March 25-28, leader of the DPRK Kim Jong-un made an unofficial visit to China, which at first was only rumored about, and only subsequently confirmed by the media of both countries. During a meeting with China’s leader Xi Jinping, the guest from Pyongyang confirmed his commitment to nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula and said his country was seeking a dialog with the US and a summit of North and South Koreas, the DW reports. It is noted that this was Kim’s first foreign visit after coming to power in 2011.

Secondly, on Thursday, March 29, delegations of North and South Koreas agreed to hold a bilateral summit on April 27, which will become the third such event since the Korean War of 1950-53. It is expected that this event will see a personal meeting between Kim and President of South Korea Moon Jae-in.

Thirdly, chairman of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach made a three-day visit to North Korea, and said afterwards that Kim wanted his athletes to take part in the Olympics to be held in Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in 2022.

Fourthly, on Sunday, April 1, a concert by South Korean pop music performers was held in Pyongyang for the first time in 13 years, attended by Kim and his wife.

In addition, the media are increasingly seeing as likely a meeting between the leader of the DPRK and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, who seeks to raise during the talks the issue of the abduction of 13 Japanese nationals by North Korea. However, information about this has not yet been verified.

“THIS IS NOT RECOGNITION OF THE REGIME, BUT RATHER RECOGNITION OF OBJECTIVE CIRCUMSTANCES”

The Day began a conversation with Sinologist, expert of the National Institute for Strategic Studies Andrii HONCHARUK by asking him to explain what the recent visit of Kim to China testified to.

“China is, in fact, the DPRK’s only ally, going back to the war between North and South Koreas. The Chinese officially fought on the side of the DPRK and more than 400,000 Chinese died in that war. Therefore, of course, the fate of North Korea has a symbolic meaning for the Chinese. On the other hand, after Kim Jong-un’s rise to power, some events took place which indicated that he wanted to abandon his role as a younger brother in relations with China. Analysts wrote about a certain cooling of relations, and the closure of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum was a landmark event.

“Immediately after US President Donald Trump came to power, there was a significant rise of tension in US-Chinese relations, and the Chinese professionally exited it, as Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the US in April 2017. All this has shown that the Chinese are able to negotiate and resolve contentious issues. Therefore, from Kim’s point of view, the only opportunity to reach some kind of understanding with the US is to bring China on board.

“In addition, it must be understood that Kim travels abroad exclusively in his armored train and can only come where the rails reach. Therefore, when it comes to a meeting between Trump and Kim, it is clear that Trump will not go to North Korea, and Kim will not fly to the US. So you need a place where this meeting can take place. Some countries of Central Asia, in particular Kyrgyzstan, have been discussed as a venue. But it is clear that it cannot provide such security guarantees as China. Therefore, most likely, China will act as a mediator for organizing a personal meeting between Kim and Trump.

“The fact that this meeting between the leaders of China and North Korea was unofficial shows only that there were many reservations from both sides – the DPRK and the US. That is why the official information about Kim’s visit to Beijing appeared after he returned to Korea on the third day after it started. I would not dabble in conspiracy theories about it, because it is actually about finding a possible format and possible conditions under which such a meeting can take place. And it can happen only with the guarantees of another country. Russia is not even considered in this case, since it is clear that it cannot provide any guarantees, and is gradually being left by the wayside of great international politics. Therefore, China remains as the only option. That country is growing and improving its global standing. Kim, of course, is choosing China to get in touch with the US.

“The fact that radical changes in North Korea will take place during the reign of Kim is apparent to all. After all, the country is on the brink: either there will be a Holodomor as terrible as the Kampuchea tragedy, or there will be some unpredictable horrors, or they will finally enter into a dialog with the civilized world and the situation will gradually change.”

Trump and Kim are preparing to meet. In April, a summit of two Koreas will take place. Why is the North Korean regime getting recognized?

“This is not recognition of the regime, but rather recognition of objective circumstances. Today, the US Armed Forces can destroy the entire missile and nuclear program of North Korea in one go. This is not an issue. The real issue is that Seoul is within conventional weapons range from the border with North Korea. Thus, the multi-million city remains a hostage in this situation, and, incidentally, has to hold an Olympics to boot.

“Therefore, the problem cannot be resolved by the force of arms. Trump has changed his rhetoric precisely because the Pentagon explained to him that it was possible to carry out denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but the price would be the destruction of both Koreas. However, the world may not go for it. While human life is worth nothing in North Korea, South Korea is a democratic country and the world will not accept half of Koreans perishing. Therefore, they are forced to look for ways to overcome the crisis which lead not to eliminating everyone and everything, but to resolving some issues.”

In your opinion, what should happen to see the nuclear disarmament of the DPRK finally happening?

“According to people in the know, in particular Chinese analysts whom I talked to back in 2013, Kim’s behavior is aimed at selling out to the Americans at a high price. He understands that North Korea does not have enough resources to last his lifetime, so he has to do something. That is, all these shocking actions and statements are done to attract attention, and then sell out at a high price. These are expert assessments. It is difficult to judge whether they are correct, because Ukraine is an outside observer in this situation, after all. But it is evident that Kim is not as naive as he seems.”

By Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day

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