Kim’s New Year’s addressNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivered two messages in his New Year’s address Monday, one conciliatory and one threatening. He underscored a need to talk with South Korea to prepare for the Feb. 9-25 PyeongChang Winter Olympics while threatening Washington that the entire U.S. mainland is within the range of his ICBMs. The two-pronged approach aims to shake the alliance between South Korea and the United States.
Kim first took an offensive posture toward the United States by reminding it of his ability to strike the continental United States with ICBMs. As if to show off its capability to deter U.S. attacks, he warned that the nuclear “button” is on his desk.
Meanwhile, Kim sent a dovish message to South Korea by demonstrating “a willingess to take measures needed to send our delegation to the Winter Games” after stressing that it is time to “sincerely talk to improve relations.” But there were strings attached. He demanded that “nuclear war drills between South Korea and the United States be stopped,” which translates into a demand that we halt joint military exercises with the United States.
The international community’s reactions varied. While the Chinese media focused on the North’s peace message, their U.S. counterparts paid heed to the brazen threats, especially Kim’s mentioning of a nuclear “button.” It is too early to link Kim’s peace offensive to a breakthrough in the deadlock. The Moon Jae-in administration must deliver the strong message that nuclear weapons and peace cannot coexist and that the North’s strategy of pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development at the same time is nothing but an illusion. Even China says that security and peace cannot be achieved without denuclearization of the peninsula.
Our government must reinforce security cooperation with the United States while preparing to have dialogue with Pyongyang. North Korea has turned to talking with South Korea after backpedaling on its previous strategy. The turnaround is most likely aimed at widening any space between Seoul and Washington. That’s why our government must augment our alliance with the United States.
Since Kim has surprisingly taken a peace offensive, our government needs the wisdom to deal with it. It must not accommodate the North’s excessive demands. North Korea could call for eased sanctions in exchange for its participation in the Olympics. But that can only be possible when there is progress in solving the nuclear problem. The government must maintain sanctions and pressure on North Korea.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 2, Page 30