Washington and Seoul’s First Joint Statement to Pyongyang, Pyongyang’s ‘Peace Treaty’ Trick

The recent geopolitical situation of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia has moved away from direct confrontation to the conversation phase. A Korea-China-Japan summit is scheduled to happen shortly after the U.S.-Korea summit, and the possibility of a Korea-Japan summit is becoming more real. In addition, the Beijing-Pyongyang relationship has improved visibly as well. The noticeable change, however, is the shift in Pyongyang’s tactics. With President Park Geun-hye’s visit to the U.S., Seoul has achieved its goal of making the denuclearization of North Korea the top U.S. priority by making the first-ever joint statement to North Korea with the U.S. In return, the U.S. has publicly demanded that Seoul side with it if the U.S.-China confrontation materializes. More than ever, maintaining the balance has become of the utmost importance to Seoul’s foreign policies.

Formerly, North Korea would have responded quickly and angrily to such a joint statement, especially considering that the language of the statement showed deep concern for North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability, along with the assurance of retaliation should North Korea push through missile launches or nuclear experiments. It is unusual for it to have a levelheaded approach. Yet, in a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, North Korea suggested a peace accord, announcing, “[we are] capable of ending the nuclear competition and solidifying the peace.” This is its third offer of a peace treaty in this month alone, the first one being the United Nations General Assembly address by Lee Su-Yong, the minister of foreign affairs, on Oct. 1, and the second one being a statement released by the spokesperson of the ministry on Oct. 7.

The [South Korean] government must pay close attention to this change of strategy by North Korea. Its intention, as noted by its use of “nuclear competition,” is to be recognized as a nuclear state and further its traditional strategy of “conversing with the USA and isolating South Korea.” It is also noteworthy to mention that the statement is targeting President Obama directly who, with only one year left in his term, is busy creating his legacy. Because President Obama solved the problems of the “forward bases of tyranny,” like Myanmar, Cuba and Iran, he could be tempted to get involved with the problem of North Korea as well. Historically, past presidents had a tendency to engage with North Korea toward the end of their terms.

We must not fall for this guile. Such a gesture from North Korea only appears because it is internationally isolated and at its limits economically. This fact is more noticeable than ever, seeing how Kim Jong-Un repeats the word “people” 97 times in his address during the anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Oct. 10. North Korea will maintain this phase of conversation and will attract outside aid as much as it can. It will use dispersed families as leverage against South Korea to neutralize the May 24 measure. There isn’t a reason to oppose the conversation itself between North Korea and the U.S. Plus, we need to be flexible when it comes to the realistic and humanitarian issues like dispersed families. However, our principle of denuclearization of North Korea must not falter, nor should we stand by idly as it attempts to make a peace treaty without us.

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