The opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang was attended by a DPRK delegation which included President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong-nam, as well as Kim Yo- jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who acted as a diplomatic envoy for her country.
Kim Yo-jong’s presence in South Korea represented the first time a member of the DPRK’s Kim family had travelled south of the 38th parallel since 1950 when DPRK founder Kim Il-sung attempted to unite the Korean people. While in Pyeongchang, Kim Yo-jong handed South Korean President Moon Jae-in a handwritten note from her brother, extending a formal invitation to the DPRK.
Only two South Korean Presidents have travelled to Pyongyang, both of whom did so during the age of the Sunshine Policy which existed between 1998 and 2008, in spite of a brief return to tensions in late 2001. During this period of extended openness between the leadership of the two Korean states, South Korea’s President Kim Dae-jung met with the DPRK’s leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in the year 2000, while Roh Moo-hyun drove from South Korea to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il in 2007.
Unlike the first sunshine policy which was an initiative of Seoul, in 2018, Kim Jong-un’s official New Year’s message advocated renewing fraternal communications with Seoul. South Korea’s moderate, peace minded President Moon Jae-in agreed and the most immediate result has been the two Korean states marching under a unity flag in the Olympics, while athletes from both states will also jointly compete in several Olympic events.
As I wrote yesterday,
“Beyond the Olympics however, it is clear that a majority of Koreans are hoping that increased contacts between the two states will lead the US to reconsider any military measures against the DPRK, which would likely result in the death of millions on either side of the border. It is important to note that it was during Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address where he stated that his country is ready to open up channels of communication with the South, while reiterating that the DPRK holds no animus to fellow Koreans living in the RoK (Republic of Korea). This is a further sign that the confidence the DPRK has attained since fully developing its nuclear deterrent, can actually have positive repercussions for peace between Seoul and Pyongyang”.
It appears that the DPRK is indeed thinking beyond the Olympics and the direct invitation from the Kim family to travel to Pyongyang is clearly the first step in such a matter. Like KimDae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, Moon Jae-in can and should meet with Kim Jong-un directly in Pyongyang. This could potentially be the beginning of the tripartite economic cooperation scheme proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the autumn of 2017. Under these proposals, Russia and the two Korean states would work jointly on trade and energy initiatives in order to enhance peace through mutual prosperity, based on the win-win model that is central to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official thought. Even in 2017, Seoul and Pyongyang expressed a positive view of Putin’s proposals.
As Russia currently maintains healthy relations with both Seoul and Pyongyang, it is Moscow that could initially work behind the scenes to help make a Kim-Moon summit happen. If it does indeed happen, China would certainly welcome such progress in line with the Sino-Russian double-freeze proposals for mutual de-escalation on the Korean peninsula.
Kim Jong-un has shown leadership that looks to the long term, both in respect of defending his country against renewed American aggression, but also in respect of creating peace for the Korean people, based on the wishes, desires and needs of the Korean people. While South Korea remains restricted by its close relationship with the US, in spite of President Moon’s apparently good intentions, it is the independent DPRK which has taken the initiative of its own volition, to attempt and secure a long term peace on the Koran peninsula that many in the US are working to prevent, due to the very vulgar reality that peace in Korea means fewer regional weapons sales for the US military-industrial complex.
This helps explain why the Russian President said of the Leader of the DPRK, “He is already an absolutely shrewd and mature politician”. Kim Jong-un has proved his ability not only in respect of growing the DPRK’s economy in spite of sanctions, but in achieving his country’s strongest ever military defence and deterrence strategy, while also extending the hand of peace to Seoul. These are both signs of intelligent, realistic leadership as well as that of a skillful diplomat, in spite of being under pressure from aggressive foreign powers.