[COLUMN] Do not put out embers of peace

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2018-02-02 10:32 Updated : 2018-02-13 15:57
글씨작게 글씨크게

Zhang Zhongyi, the editor-in-chief of Aju Business Daily's Chinese language service. [Photo by Namkung Jinwoong]

(This column was written by Zhang Zhongyi, the editor-in-chief of Aju Business Daily's  Chinese language service.)   

SEOUL, Feb. 02 (Aju News) -- It is true that the Winter Olympics is less popular than the Summer Olympics. However, the Pyeongchang Olympics, which has come a week ahead, is drawing attention all over the world. It is because of participation of North Korea.

The government of Moon Jae-in, who has consistently wanted inter-Korean dialogue, responded aggressively to North Korean supremer leader Kim Jong-un, who expressed his intention in his New Year message to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, leading to a series of agreements on the participation of North Korean athletes, a unified Korea team and the dispatch of cheerleaders and performers to South Korea. Now, a faint glimmer of peace can be seen on the Korean peninsula, which has been shrouded in a dark cloud of war and tension until the end of last year. 

Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, said that sports are the substitute for mankind to escape from constant fighting and war. In this sense, it is no exaggeration to say that the Pyeongchang Olympics, in which South and North Korea will jointly participate, embodies the Olympic spirit and object. As the 1988 Seoul Olympics symbolized a global get-together, the Pyeongchang Olympics will once again mark the beginning of the 'Peace Olympics'.

North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un declared that he would support and participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics from a national point of view, but the real purpose is to demonstrate his willingness and imperturbability that he would not succumb to international sanctions, and also his confidence in successful nuclear and missile development.

Such views that North Korea's participation in the Olympics is a means of 'coming between South Korea and the United States', 'avoiding international sanctions', or 'inducing internal conflict in South Korea ' are overestimating North Korea's intention. There is no doubt that the Moon Jae-in government knows well. President Moon intended to utilize all opportunities as much as possible to create a dialogue atmosphere in a volatile crisis situation on the Korean peninsula. Such efforts are highly appreciated.

But there is no reason to expect too much of this inter-Korean dialogue. In particular, some media and opposition parties in South Korea insist that the current government should directly link this inter-Korean dialogue to the resolution of the nuclear issue, but this is an unreasonable demand because the Olympics should not be used as a tool for political struggle.

First, South Korea and the United States have already agreed to resume military training after the Olympics. North Korea is also likely to resume provocations such as nuclear weapons and missile launches. If that happens, the atmosphere of the current dialogue will disappear in a flash, and tension and conflict will rise again. Evidently,  it will fall back again in the vicious circle of tension- dialogue-tension.

More importantly, North Korea has not taken South Korea as its counterpart from the beginning. Currently, there is only the United States in the eyes of North Korea. The United States is its biggest enemy and main negotiating partner at the same time. Although its nuclear development might have been a negotiating card with the United States at the initial stage, North Korea now regards nuclear development as the final and ultimate means of ensuring the security of its regime and its survival. However, the big deal that North Korea intends to pursue can be made under the premise that the United States recognizes its status as a nuclear power.

However, North Korea's intention conflicts with the global strategy of the United States. North Korea threatens its biggest enemy with nuclear weapons and challenges the global nuclear nonproliferation regime. It is trying to safeguard the security of its regime and system with a nuclear program, bringing about the U.S. threat of war and isolation from the international community.

President Trump sent another tough message to North Korea during his State of the Union address. He criticized North Korea's human rights situation and the regime and warned that tolerance of the reality and concessions will only invite aggression and provocation, referring to the recent inter-Korean thaw. And he stressed that the United States would not repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that have put it in a dangerous situation. This indicated that the Trump administration would be more adamant without compromise and concessions.

Trump and Kim Jong-un are equally unpredictable leaders, and as long as there is no dramatic turnaround, deep distrust and sharp conflicts between North Korea and the United States are expected to further escalate.

In the midst of this, it is not easy for the South Korean government to maintain the atmosphere of dialogue brought by the Pyeongchang Olympics. President Moon expressed his strong will to sit in the driver's seat, but regrettably, he has no way ahead and the engine and brake are in North Korea and the United States, respectively. Furthermore, he is not free from domestic politics and is being checked by the conservative camp.

However, we should not let the atmosphere of dialogue and embers of peace die away. The North Korean nuclear issue has panned out for a long time, becoming the biggest obstacle to Northeast Asia and the entire world. It cannot be solved overnight. A simple-minded military option is useful as 'the sword of Damocles' on your head, but once you use it, it will bring a catastrophic outcome to Northeast Asia as well as the Korean peninsula. A peaceful resolution through dialogue is the only way. This is a shared position between South Korea and the regional powers -- China and Russia.

There is a chance in crisis. After World War I, the League of Nations emerged, and the United Nations was formed after World War II to provide a more advanced international order and systems. In the process of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, a joint and shared security system should be established in Northeast Asia where security cooperation is weak. In other words, the nuclear issue should be resolved in a frame of joint security through dialogue in an incremental manner, such as controllable and verifiable suspension of nuclear development and final abandonment under the non-proliferation regime.

As a party to the unification of the Korean peninsula and as an axis of the ROK-US alliance, South Korea's role of communicating with persuading North Korea and the United States is of the utmost importance. Inter-Korean dialogue during the Pyeongchang Olympics and the creation of a "short time of peace" proves this. Of course, China, Russia and Japan will have to demonstrate their abilities and influence as much as possible.

Fortunately, the international community and the G2, including China and the United States, have come to reach a general consensus at this stage after overcoming disagreements and disputes over how to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. The United States has declared that it will no longer aim to remove the North Korean regime, and China is actively participating in international sanctions and implements its duty as a superpower to guarantee the completeness of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, although it is North Korea's traditional ally.

In particular, the North Korean leadership may drum up its 'broad' point of view and 'bold' decision to support and participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, but it must realize that a true action from a broad point of view is to return to the dialogue table on resolving the nuclear issue by grasping the will of the international community and the current of the times.