Bracing for post-PyeongChangVice President of the United States Mike Pence warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would try to hijack the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. He said that Kim Jong-un wanted to steal the spotlight and use the opportunity for propaganda directed at the international community. He is not exaggerating. North Korea is sending over 500 people, including athletes, officials, cheerleaders and an orchestra. North Korea’s presence in PyeongChang is overwhelming. Some are confused if Pyongyang is participating in an Olympics hosted by South Korea or if an Olympics jointly hosted by South and North Korea is actually being held in Pyongchang. The PyeongChang Winter Olympics is being derided as the “Pyongyang Olympics.”
Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address contributed to the confusion. He said that North Korea would show off the status of its people at “the Winter Olympics,” omitting PyeongChang from the official title. PyeongChang, Peace and Pyongyang are all so confusing.
We need to focus on what comes after the Olympics. President Moon Jae-in hopes to follow the resumed inter-Korean talks with U.S.-North Korea talks. But Washington seems to be cold on that idea and even the inter-Korean talks. U.S. President Donald Trump said he was rooting for the success of the PyeongChang Olympics in a phone conversation with Moon. But the Secretary of Defense, CIA director and marine commanders underscore that military options against North Korea are still on the table, that Korea-U.S. joint military exercises would resume after the Olympics, and preparations for ground warfare in South Korea are in progress.
On the day before the opening of the Games, Kim Jong-un plans a military parade to mark the founding of the People’s Army. At talks hosted by the Korea Peace Foundation, Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon said that the parade on Feb. 8 could be a threatening event. The parade will likely feature advanced ICBMs, whose range covers the continental United States The purpose of the parade is to show off Kim’s “great” accomplishment of completing a nuclear deterrence arsenal against the United States.
If Kim shows off his nuclear and missiles capability and the Korea-U.S. joint military drills resume after the Olympics, the Korean Peninsula is likely return to the pre-PyeongChang state. Moon needs to persuade the United States within the 77 days of the PyeongChang truce. How?
There are two ways. The first is for Washington to break out of the ongoing crisis by taking over the resumed inter-Korean talks. The United States must seriously consider Seoul’s proposal. Hard-line remarks from Washington only serve as reminders to Kim to rush his production of nuclear weapons and missiles.
The second is to reduce the size of the Korea-U.S. joint exercise. A war in the 21st century is held in five fields: four conventional fields — ground, sea, air and space — as well as cyberspace. The United States leads the world in cyber warfare. In today’s world, where cyber and electronic offensives based on computers decide an outcome, traditional military drills are less significant. Now is the era of a smart war, transitioning from heavy and large weaponry to light and swift arms. North Korea has a fearful cyber warfare capability.
But persuading Uncle Sam is difficult. We can start from PyeongChang and not allow North Korea to hijack the Olympics as Vice President Mike Pence worries. Excessive recognition of Hyon Song-wol, leader of the Samjiyon Orchestra, was nothing but a show of servility. North Korea’s presence in PyeongChang must not exceed a reasonable level. In reality, resolution of the Korean Peninsula conflict against the will of the United States or without its participation is impossible.
Then we should move on to North Korea and persuade it that inter-Korean talks should continue and improve even after the Korea-U.S. joint military drills resume. Kim Jong-un wants to take credit for giving a present to Moon by participating in the Olympics. After the Olympics, Kim will send a bill as suggested in his New Year’s address. He will want the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism programs and lifting of the so-called May 24 measures. These are Korea’s levers for negotiations. It is the irony of history that Moon can use them as leverage as they are the legacies of two former presidents — Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye — who are widely considered to be responsible for longstanding ills in our society. In fact, the Lee administration succeeded in winning the competition to host the Games.
Moon is a lucky politician to be holding the Olympics at a crossroads of war and peace. The heavens have presented him with an opportunity to transform from politician to statesman.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 29
*The author is a senior columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.