North must come to the tableRepresentatives of South Korea, the United States and Japan have gathered to discuss the North Korean nuclear program. In Monday’s meeting in Seoul, Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, expressed the hope that North Korea positively reacts to their proposal for a meeting with no strings attached. The tripartite meeting was held following North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s statement on Friday that he is ready for both dialogue and confrontation.
South Korea and the U.S. regard Kim’s announcement as a positive sign. Though Kim used the word “confrontation,” they attach more weight to “dialogue.” Jake Sullivan, national security advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, interpreted Kim’s comments as an “interesting sign.” “We will wait to see if any more immediate communication with us about a possible move forward will follow,” he said.
It remains to be seen if the trilateral meeting could help find a breakthrough in the deadlocked denuclearization talks. The inter-Korean and U.S.-North dialogue have been effectively cut off since the failed U.S.-North summit in Hanoi. North Korea went so far as to blow up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong last year. But the U.S. could not afford to deal with North Korean issues because of the presidential election. After the start of the Biden administration in January and the establishment of a new security lineup, the time has come for concerned parties to tackle the denuclearization issue.
North Korea continued ratcheting up nuclear capabilities in the face of economic hardship. Last week, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a Swedish think tank, estimated the number of North Korean nuclear warheads reached 40 to 50 as of January, about 10 more than in 2020. The RAND Corporation and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies assessed the number to be between 50 and 100.
Despite reinforced nuclear armaments, North Korea’s economy is in jeopardy due to international sanctions and its border closure with China after the breakout of the pandemic. Worse, the country has been running critically short of food since the flood and typhoon last year. North Korea can provoke South Korea to divert its people’s complaints or push the peninsula into a crisis. In that case, North Korea must be prepared for possible destruction by South Korea and the U.S. The recalcitrant state can hardly keep to belligerency throughout Biden’s term due to its internal weaknesses.
North Korea must accept the proposal from the three countries. It must take a sincere approach to complete denuclearization. We hope North Korea does not miss the rare opportunity.