High risk, high return

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High risk, high return


Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Whenever North Korea called its nuclear weapons “a treasured sword of justice,” I was reminded of a remark by the late Bo Yang, a Taiwanese social critic who passed away 10 years ago. He once used the term, “a golden food bowl of a beggar.” While North Korea’s people live in poverty, the leadership is boasting about its weapons program, just like a beggar boasting of a golden bowl. A strong military should be preceded by a prosperous country. Only then can a leader win the people’s support, and the regime is stabilized.

At a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party last week, Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers’ Party, declared that the country’s goal will be shifted from the nuclear program to the economy. Five years after adopting the dual-track development of nuclear weapons and the economy, he changed the basis of his policies to concentrate all efforts on developing the economy.

Kim presented a reason. He said that North Korea has already completed the development of nuclear arms with the successful launch of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, allegedly capable of striking the entire U.S. mainland, at the end of last year, so the country is now ready to focus on the economy. As the North completed its nuclear weapons program, there is no need to conduct additional nuclear and missile tests, he said, declaring that the country will stop nuclear and missile tests and shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.

Various analyses were made about Kim’s move, which was announced just a week before the inter-Korean summit. Some welcomed it as great progress toward denuclearization, while others defined it as a de facto declaration that North Korea is a nuclear weapons state.


As the North already promised to suspend nuclear and missile tests during dialogue, some called it just a step to formalize the decision. But others played down the significance of North Korea shutting down a nuclear test site as it has served its lifespan with six tests over the past.

Furthermore, North Korea acted as if it is a responsible nuclear state by saying it will not use a nuclear weapon as long as there is no nuclear threat and will not transfer nuclear arms. Kim’s true intention is not known. Some observers said he wants to declare that the North is a nuclear state in order to turn the upcoming denuclearization negotiation into nuclear arms reduction talks.

At Friday’s inter-Korean summit, President Moon Jae-in must ask clearly about Kim’s position. The first goal of the summit should be confirming the genuineness of Kim’s will to end his nuclear weapons program. Only after a direct and clear confirmation can the summit serve as a pathfinder for the U.S.-North summit and only then can we expect a successful summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

For Kim to recover the North Korean economy with his new policy, the international community’s support and lifting of sanctions are crucial. It is Trump’s firm position that economic sanctions won’t be eased unless a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization is done by the North.

If Kim expects eased sanctions while maintaining a few nuclear weapons, that’s a miscalculation. Trump is convinced that he won’t repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. You cannot hold all the good cards. Sometimes, you have to give one up to win another that might possibly be even better.

Making a decision to totally give up the nuclear weapons he was so devoted to developing won’t be easy. But to offer prosperous lives to the people by rebuilding the economy, Kim has to give up nuclear arms. That is the way to win his people’s support and maintain the regime’s security in the long term. Even if he gives up the nuclear arms, the experiences and knowledge of having mastered nuclear weapons technology won’t disappear. Kim should find comfort in that and make a grand decision to abandon his nuclear program when stakes are the highest.

He must throw away a big card to win the game. There is only one rule for businessmen like Trump. That is “High risk, high return.”
“We hope to see the day when the whole Korean Peninsula can live together in safety, prosperity and peace. This is the destiny of the Korean people, who deserve and have gone through so much over the years,” Trump said last week. That means he knows the historic significance of the current dialogue to the people of the Korean Peninsula. There will never be any better chance.

The South-North summit is the first summit between leaders of the two Koreas to address denuclearization. Establishing a peace system on the peninsula and drastically improving inter-Korean relations will also be discussed. For the first time in 73 years of division, leaders of the two Koreas will address the sources of the peninsula’s issues in this historic summit.

The summit will decide whether the last remaining confrontational structure of the Cold War will be dismantled and convert the Korean Peninsula into a land of peace and prosperity or not. If the military tensions on the peninsula are resolved and a path to denuclearization is opened, Moon and Kim will be remembered as heroes who changed the destiny of the Korean people.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 24, Page 31
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