THERE are increasing discussions in Western public opinion about signs of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reportedly ordered more rocket engines and warhead tips during his visit to the institute in charge of developing the country’s ballistic missiles. The move is interpreted as Pyongyang’s response to the Washington-Seoul “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” drill, but observers also stressed that Kim did not reiterate he would strike US territory.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted that there had been no missile or nuclear test in the last two weeks, stressing “I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has demonstrated restraint.” US President Donald Trump also claimed that “I respect the fact that he [Kim] is starting to respect us.”
Washington always focused its attention on Pyongyang’s tough stance and “provocations,” but this time, it praised the country for its restraint, a rare attitude toward Pyongyang. There is no rule to US-North Korean interactions, but obviously their current interactions are quite different from the previous war of words.
The ongoing military drill is smaller than last year’s. And while Kim visited the institute in charge of developing missiles, there has been no recent missile launch. Their adjustments are perhaps a reset in the peninsula crisis, but whether the crisis would be peacefully solved is still hard to predict.
There is a lack of mutual trust to address the peninsula issue, and the parties concerned have been preparing for the worst for a long time. Confrontational sentiments have accumulated almost to a tipping point.
But neither the US nor North Korea wants a hot war. This has prevented the military showdown from escalating, and created favorable conditions to ease the situation. Whether Washington and Pyongyang are willing to make efforts to alleviate the tensions is key.
With its might and the alliance with South Korea, the US has more initiative than North Korea on the peninsula issue, and has many cards in hand to alleviate the tensions. Pyongyang uses aggressive tactics as a means to force Washington to pay attention to its security rights, and has no reason to start a conflict with the US and South Korea.
Washington regards Pyongyang’s recent silence as “restraint” and “respect.” It seems it is preparing to relax conditions for talks with Pyongyang. The response from North Korea is key to future negotiations.
Washington and Pyongyang should learn to detect and respond to the other’s goodwill. The US and South Korea, on the one hand, should continue to lessen the scale of their military drills and activities and pay attention to their rhetoric. North Korea should halt its missile launches and create a favorable environment for future goodwill interactions with the US.
There are risks that as North Korea attempts to preserve its regime, and as the US seeks to prevent an attack, both sides may be forced into war.
China proposed the “dual suspension” to defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula. But worrying that suspension of their activities on one side would encourage the other to become more arrogant, the US and North Korea are still aggressive in their posturing. We hope all sides can move in the direction of “dual suspension” which will surely lead to a real solution.