Back to the table for Pyongyang

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Back to the table for Pyongyang

As special envoy for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the North Korean People’s Army, talked about the necessity of “dialogue with other countries” to resolve issues that raised tensions around the Korean Peninsula while on his visit to Beijing. This indicated that Pyongyang is willing to return to the international dialogue table. Observers are already raising hopes that Pyongyang may be seeking an exit from the military provocation and belligerence that has been escalating tensions around the Korean Peninsula. But it is too early to become too hopeful. North Korean media remains mum about whether Choe made such a comment. It merely said Choe and Liu Yunshan, a member of the Standing Committee of Political Bureau of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, emphasized stronger bilateral cooperation.

Pyongyang appears to be trying to mend ties with Beijing after it irked its traditional ally by snubbing its advice and carrying out long-range missile and nuclear tests. It may have acquiesced ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.S. and South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s planned visit to China next month. Pyongyang may have uttered dialogue as a face-saving gesture toward Beijing as Xi readies for summits with Seoul and Washington. Or it might have worried about unwanted isolation followed by the consecutive dialogue between the heads of state from China, the U.S. and South Korea, especially when it seems to be on bad terms with its only friend among those countries.

Even if it is just a gesture, North Korea’s offer of dialogue may be meaningful. It at least has not lost the decency or touch with reality to step back when necessary. It is still unclear whether it will return to the six-party dialogue platform to ensure denuclearization as proposed by Beijing. Since it detonated a nuclear device in February, North Korea said it won’t discuss denuclearization and that any future talk with the U.S. would be strictly about reducing weapons. Seoul and Washington, fully knowing the North’s position, demand Pyongyang to show sincerity to commitment on nuclear disarmament before dialogue when Choe expressed intention for dialogue. Only Tokyo welcomed Pyongyang’s offer of dialogue.

It is early to raise hopes that denuclearization and lasting peace can be achieved through diplomacy. But it is a promising sign that North Korea maintains a sense of reality. It cannot lose Beijing, having parted ways with Seoul and Washington.

We must try to develop the dialogue for a sincere endeavor toward the goal of denuclearization. We must ask Beijing to be more aggressive in persuading Pyongyang. We also must make Pyongyang see the benefits it will receive if it sincerely works towards denuclearization. North Korea must be persuaded that it cannot survive without forgoing nuclear ambition and contributing to peace. Seoul must not use the momentum to pressure Pyongyang in the same manner as its previous government. But at the end of the day, it is entirely up to North Korea. The international society will no longer tolerate its feigning move.

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