An Olympic victory?

An Olympic victory?
Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has invited South Korean President Moon Jae In to visit Pyongyang at the “earliest date possible”. She is currently..

Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has invited South Korean President Moon Jae In to visit Pyongyang at the “earliest date possible”. She is currently visiting Seoul as part of the North Korean delegation participating in the Winter Olympics. 

This would be the first summit held between the two embattled neighbors in over a decade and could signal a new era of peace in the Korean peninsula.

Background

Before Korea was divided into two nations, it was occupied by Japan in 1910. In the final days of World War II, Soviet Union declared war on Japan and advanced towards Korea. In 1950, North Korean forces advanced to South Korea, occupying a large portion of it. This resulted in the US entering the conflict along with the United Nations to defend South Korea. The US forces were successful in pushing back the North Korean military and in 1953 an armistice was proposed and signed.

However, a peace treaty was never signed and thus the war never really ended. This is famously referred to as the “Forgotten War.” The two countries have since had a fractious relationship. Despite poor relations, South Korea has sent across aid to North Korea in the past. This is due to the fact the North Korean regime has often been marred by food shortages and famine. Sporting events between the North and South have in the past been marred by acts of violence by Pyongyang, such as the 1987 bombing of Korean Airlines Flight 858 meant to cause chaos during Seoul’s preparations to host the 1988 games.

In 2017, North Korea has launched 22 missiles in the span of 15 tests. It has increased its military activity since July of 2017 when it tests launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). In August 2017, North Korea flew two missiles over Japan. The nation called it the “first step” in its Pacific operations. In September 2017, the nation has conducted its sixth nuclear test to date. As a result, the UN has issued multiple sanctions on the nation in a bid to cripple the nation economically and force it into negotiations.

Analysis

In 2017, both the US and North Korea increasingly broached the possibility of war, especially nuclear war. In a televised address for New Year’s Eve, North Korean head, Kim Jong Un said that the nuclear option was always on his “desk.”

However, in a surprising turnabout, in January 2018, North Korea signaled its intent in participating in the Winter Olympics held in Seoul in February 2018. Delegations from both countries met on January 9th to confirm on details and paving way for warmer ties.

The Olympics that commenced on February 9th, 2018, displayed a rare show of unity between North and South Korea. Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un was present at the opening ceremony and shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae In. Athletes from both nations held a flag of a unified Korean flag and entered the arena together – it was not the first time this has happened historically. The ceremony itself was called “Peace in Motion.”

Now, in yet another landmark development, Kim Yo Jong on behalf of North Korea has invited South Korean president Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. North Korea has noted that it wants this summit held at the “earliest date possible.” This would be the first summit that would be held between the two nations in over 10 years.  

Moon responded to the invitation by saying: “Let us make it happen by creating the necessary conditions in the future”. He also added, “An early resumption of dialogue between the United States and the North is needed also for the development of the South-North Korean relationship.”

US vice-president Mike Pence was also present at the opening ceremony of the games but did not acknowledge Kim Yo Jong who was seated in the same VIP box. Additionally, he spoke to reporters stating, “We’re going to continue to put all the pressure to bear economically and diplomatically, while preserving all of our military options to see that that happens.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that this is the clearest indication that North Korea is willing to negotiate a truce and reduce tensions in the Korean peninsula. However, there are several challenges that both the countries need to overcome. For instance, North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear programme – the country held a military parade to demonstrate its Martial strength to the world. We believe that the current move would find favor both with China and Russia as this would reduce the operating space for the US in the region.

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