A yawn of a congress

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A yawn of a congress

The Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, the first time in 36 years, has proven to be a boring occasion repeating past policies without offering anything in the way of new policy ideas. It may be that the sight of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a speech in a western suit has been the most surprising moment of the event. Foreign journalists invited to cover the event were not even allowed inside the April 25 House of Culture, where the congress is taking place. They cooled their heels at their hotel. It’s without a doubt a bizarre coronation.

Kim’s message delivered over the past two days was pretty clear. First, he pledged his nation would “faithfully fulfill its obligation for non-proliferation and strive for global denuclearization.” At first glance, that may be read as if North Korea was interested in denuclearization of itself. Actually, it means the opposite. Pyongyang’s pledge to follow international efforts for non-proliferation is no different from a demand that it be recognized as a nuclear state.

Kim’s urge to resolve misunderstanding and mistrust through talks is also nothing more than rhetoric, and hollow rhetoric at that.
Despite disappointments, we should not miss the implications of this congress being held at this time. Whether it is due to China’s pressure or its recent botched missile tests, the North did not carry out a fifth nuclear weapons test yet. Had it gone ahead with the fifth test, it would have put the two Koreas in a direct confrontation. The fact that Pyongyang has chosen not to provoke us again raises a possibility that it may opt for dialogue.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said in February on a visit to Washington that regional players should consider discussing denuclearization of North Korea and signing of a peace treaty between North Korea and the United States at the same time. It is also reported that U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper inquired about South Korea’s position on the possibility of Washington negotiating a peace treaty with Pyongyang.

But discussions of the peace treaty could become a Pandora’s box for Seoul. It could spark unwanted controversies such as possible the withdrawal of the U.S. military in South Korea. To stave off such situations, the North’s denuclearization and discussion of a peace treaty should be complementary to each other. It should also be stressed that South Korea should be at the center of such discussions.

Last but not least, while the current situation calls for pressure on Pyongyang, Seoul should be flexible enough to induce Pyongyang to a negotiating table should there be momentum for talks.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 9, Page 30
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