DPRK leader Kim Jong-un has praised the hospitality of Southern officials who hosted a large DPRK delegation celebrating the opening of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. He further stated that he seeks to continue to boost ties with Seoul in what looks to be the dawning of a new Sunshine Policy that could eclipse the last period of attempted North/South rapprochement in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
There are several factors at play in fomenting a new golden period of Pyongyang-Seoul relations.
1. Peace through strength
Far from acting in mysterious ways, North Korea is living up to every promise it has made in respect of exploring the possibility of enhanced relations with Seoul. In September of 2017 when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a tripartite economic cooperation scheme between Moscow, Pyongyang and Seoul, the DPRK’s high level delegation agreed to consider such proposals at such a time when Pyongyang’s security deterrents were sufficient to guarantee the DPRK’s safety against foreign provocateurs.
The successful underground test of a domestically produced hydrogen bomb combined with the successful test flight of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, have led the DPRK to declare the completion of its long standing goal to achieve nuclear parity with the US. This simply means that the DPRK sought the ability to target sites on the US mainland with the same comparative ease with which the US can target the DPRK. Pyongyang proclaimed this goal has have been achieved in line with statements made before President Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum, the now appears to be progressing in discussions with Seoul.
This proves that far from isolating the DPRK, Pyongyang’s nuclear deterrent has given the country the confidence to expand its regional and international horizons due to the confidence it now feels in the ability to defend itself against US threats. Thus, the very doctrine of ‘peace through strength’ that is often touted by conservatives in the US, has proved itself to be effective for the DPRK. It is because of, not in spite of the DPRK’s nuclear deterrent that Kim Jong-un and his government are now willing and able to engage in constructive dialogue with Seoul.
2. No war against brothers
The DPRK has repeatedly stated that its weapons programmes are not aimed at South Korea. Pyongyang has said that it is only the US which it seeks to defend itself against. Recent statements about the fraternal bonds between a single Korean people, which formed a central part of Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Message, emphasised his desire to re-start long stalled contacts with fellow Koreans on the other side of the 38th parallel.
The timing was crucial not only in respect of the DPRK’s completion of its nuclear deterrent, but also due to the fact that the war-mongering US puppet Park Geun-hye has been replaced by the moderate, affable and seemingly sincere Moon Jae-in as President of the RoK (South Korea).
Thus, the sincere impetus for peace and dialogue which Kim Jong-un spoke of during New Year’s celebrations has been reciprocated by the South Korean President. The Olympics has been a litmus test for this mutual good will and clearly both sides have been pleased with the other, so much so that Moon will likely visit the DPRK this year after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong handed Moon her brother’s handwritten invitation to cordially visit Pyongyang.
3. Russia and One Belt–One Road
Russia has been having intense diplomatic meetings with DPRK officials for the last 6 months. During this time, it has become clear that Moscow’s historic trust based relations with Pyongyang have helped encourage rapprochement and dialogue between the two Korean states. Russia which has uniquely good relations with both Pyongyang and Seoul, has clearly helped to diplomatically outshine the inert United States in terms of taking a peace minded hands on approach to assuring both Korean sides of the sincerity of the other, inline with President Putin’s tripartite economic proposals.
While China and South Korea are currently enjoying historically good relations, Beijing and Pyongyang remain distant as Xi Jingping’s government has taken something of a personal dislike to the government of Kim Jong-un.
However, far from being an obstacle, China has been using its new found economic partnership with Seoul to entice South Korea out of the increasingly hostile US economic orbit and into China’s more flexible One Belt–One Road. While Seoul’s formal participation in One Belt–One Road is not yet an immediate priority, America’s own reticence to continue free trade with Seoul combined with China’s open door to free trade, is clearly pushing Moon to pivot closer to China in that respect.
With China helping to open up South Korea to One Belt–One Road and with Russia helping to open up the DPRK to South Korea, the world could be witnessing the early stages of economic cooperation proposals which would tie China’s One Belt–One Road together with Russia’s ‘opening up’ of the DPRK. This win-win situation could slowly but surely see the consecration of a giant free trading space incorporating both Korean states, China and Russia.
4. Slow and steady wins the race
While US Vice President Mike Pence’s rude presence at the Olympics offended both Korean states, even he admitted on his journey back to the US, that Washington may now consider early stage dialogue with Pyongyang without preconditions. This is less of a policy about-face from the US than it is an admission that the peace/prosperity train has left the station and while China, Russia and both Koreas are on board (albeit in different coaches), the US has been left waiting at the station.
The slow, realistic and respectful approach to both Koreas that Russia has shown, has allowed Kim Jong-un to reveal himself as a master diplomat who nevertheless does not want to take chances but subjecting his country’s security to the promises of others.
This careful balance has allowed internal Korean relations to blossom. Because of the nature of today’s multipolar world, it is possible that far from a temporary respite in historic hostilities, this new Sunshine Policy could lead to a golden age of Korean harmony that could see a formal end to the Korean War, along with enhanced inter-connectivity between Seoul, Pyongyang, Beijing and Moscow. The only roadblock is an aggressive United States that stands to lose valuable weapons sales to the region, should peace breakout.
“Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, Monday met members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which visited south Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics.
Present at the meeting were the members of the delegation including Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yo Jong, first vice department director of the Central Committee of the WPK, Choe Hwi, chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee, Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, and other suite members.
On hand there were also Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the C.C., the WPK, and Jo Yong Won, vice department director of the C.C., the WPK.
Kim Jong Un highly appreciated the efforts of the members of the delegation and other suite members while shaking their hands and listened to the detailed report by them.
Kim Yong Nam made the detailed report on the activities of the delegation including its participation in the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics and visit to Chongwadae.
Kim Yo Jong who activated at the special instruction of Kim Jong Un made the detailed report on her contacts with the south side’s high-level figures such as President Moon Jae In and the south side’s intention and movement of the U.S. side and others which she grasped through her activities.
After receiving the delegation’s report, Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction over it and said that very impressive were the features of the south side which specially prioritized the visit of the members of the DPRK side who took part in the Winter Olympics including the high-level delegation making their possible and sincere efforts for the formers’ convenience and activities and expressed thanks for them.
Noting that it is important to continue making good results by further livening up the warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue created by the strong desire and common will of the north and the south with the Winter Olympics as a momentum, he set forth in detail the orientation of the improvement of the north-south relations and gave important instructions to the relevant field to take practical measures for it.
He had a photo session with the members of the delegation”.