Positive steps, but small onesNo intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) showed up at the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean government on Sunday, a decision that we welcome. The military parade in July celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean Army proudly featured Hwasong-14 and 15 ICBMs. North Korea also changed the way it broadcasts its major political events: from live coverage to a recorded one this time. That’s not all. The North’s state mouthpieces, including the Rodong Sinmun, refrained from expressing hostility toward the United States. All of this suggests Pyongyang’s intention to not provoke America and the rest of the world ahead of tough negotiations to denuclearize the North.
In a somewhat positive sign, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s personal letter was also delivered to U.S. President Donald Trump, though its exact content was not revealed. In his reaction, President Trump did not hide his aspiration for improved relations between Washington and Pyongyang through the letter. On Twitter, he said that Kim voiced “unwavering faith” in him and promised to continue to work together down the road.
China tried to save North Korea’s image by sending Li Zhanshu — the third-ranking member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo under the Communist Party Central Committee — to the celebration. China refrained from provoking the United States by not sending President Xi Jinping to the event. All the developments show that the heightened tension over the Korean Peninsula after Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang are somewhat eased thanks to the confirmation of Kim’s intention not to leave the negotiation table.
Nevertheless, North Korea and South Korea must keep in mind that such an appreciative atmosphere alone cannot serve as the grounds for easing sanctions on the recalcitrant regime. As we have repeatedly pointed out, North Korea has not taken any concrete action to dismantle its nuclear weapons except for shutting down a nuclear test site and a missile test site. In other words, nuclear threats from North Korea have not subsided.
Under such circumstances, the liberal Moon Jae-in administration is engrossed in pushing for various measures to facilitate inter-Korean exchanges. President Moon explicitly said he will try to make progress in denuclearizing North Korea to an irreversible level by the end of this year. The government must thoroughly prepare for the third inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang to meet that deadline.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 10, Page 34