The recent talks between North and South Korea that held in the Demilitarised Zone of the peninsula may yet be a first step towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis in that region which brought the world close to a nuclear conflict. Arrangements for the upcoming Winter Olympics scheduled to hold in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month, have helped to bring some respite, even if temporarily, to relations between the two brotherly nations. North Korea has given the indication that she would send a delegation to that sporting event. During those talks, both sides also agreed to resolve problems among them through dialogue and also revive military consultations so as to avoid accidental conflict.
A year ago, with the tension in the region, holding such a meeting between the two countries would have been thought to be out of the question. At the peak of the altercation, North Korea tested the reach of its Inter-continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) some of which landed in areas close to Guam, an island and tourist resort in the north western Pacific Ocean which is an unincorporated territory of the United States and another near Japan. Besides the tests by North Korea, acerbic rhetoric by the Donald Trump administration and the unpredictability of the North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un, heightened fears of an imminent war.
United States followed up its threat to annihilate North Korea, in an event of a military showdown, by reinforcing the defence systems of its major allies in the region, South Korea and Japan. Even with that, and the assurances extended to her through visits by top ranking United States government officials, South Korea was not amused at the prospect of a war with North Korea that had said publicly, that if the United States attacked her, she would respond with an attack on South Korea. Her citizens demonstrated openly that they were not ready for an armed conflict with their northern erratic compatriots.
While the face-off between United States and North Korea lingered, world powers especially China and Russia, insisted that military action was undesirable. Geographically, the two countries are contiguous to both Koreas making it inevitable that in an armed conflict there is a possibility of a collateral effect on their territories. There was much talk at the diplomatic level that encouraged the advancement of inter-Korean ties and the denuclearisation of the peninsula. Also, it was argued that strategic communication and cooperation within the region must be strengthened as a way of reducing tension. In our opinion, these were, rightly, perceived as the most effective processes of ensuring that manageable peace was maintained in the peninsula.
That position which emphasised the preference for diplomacy was furthered given a boost with the latest dialogue effort which will hopefully lead to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and the establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula, beyond next month’s Winter Olympics. Interestingly, President Trump remarked that the dialogue between the two Koreas could naturally lead to talks between the United States and North Korea for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Washington also welcomed the talks as a first step towards resolving the crisis over North Korea’s programme to develop nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. Beijing had expressed the same optimism and offered to work with South Korea to jointly maintain regional peace and stability.
At this time, we think it will be appropriate to ignore North Korea’s irascible insistence on not discussing her nuclear weapons because they are aimed only at the United States and not her neighbours China, Russia and South Korea. Kim Jong-un does not need to be reminded that given the nature of nuclear facilities, their effects are usually not limited to the main target area. His assurances that China, Russia and South Korea are not immediate targets, in our view, can only give, at best, cold comfort to those countries.
It is from that perspective that this newspaper will remain part of the pressure that will push the international community not to be deterred as it carries on with its diplomatic interventions so as to consolidate on the positive chapter opened by the recent talks by the Koreas preparatory to the Games. Given the level of tensions generated by verbal exchanges between North Korea and the United States, no one would have anticipated, some months ago, that this semblance of rapprochement was plausible so soon. That means that the channels of communication must be kept open as the benefits of diplomacy are explored in efforts to bring about a lasting peace in the troubled Korean peninsula.
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