While the joint statement issued by the foreign ministerial on North Korea issues welcomed the North-South dialogue and North Korea’s plan to participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, in the hope that the dialogue will lead to easing of tensions, the ministerial also exposed the differences between Japan and the U.S., which emphasize applying pressure on North Korea, and the ROK, which is promoting dialogue with North Korea.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono stated firmly at the ministerial that, “This is not the time to reduce pressure or reward the DPRK.” He warned against being distracted by North Korea’s “charm diplomacy.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also stated at a news conference held after the meeting that, “North Korea has not shown that it is a trustworthy negotiating partner,” cautioning against the dialogue mood.
Meanwhile, ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa stressed that the North-South talks were taking place in a positive and constructive atmosphere. She said: “We would like to make this the first breakthrough in easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and hope that this will create a situation that will help achieve a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue.” While she supported strengthening sanctions against the DPRK, the ROK would actually like to avoid disrupting the current atmosphere of North-South dialogue.
On the other hand, China was opposed to the foreign ministerial. Although it is increasingly wary of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, it is also seriously concerned that stronger pressure might result in reckless behavior on the part of North Korea. It pins hopes on the momentum for North-South dialogue ahead of the PyeongChang Olympics.
It is possible that North Korea is the one gloating over this situation. It is clearly thinking of using the North-South dialogue as a breakthrough toward easing sanctions. Uriminzokkiri, official website of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, warned on Jan. 17: “If (the ROK) attempts to link the North-South dialogue to the issue of denuclearization, the result will only be devastating.” It appears that North Korea is trying to undermine the international community’s unity by leveraging the North-South dialogue — which is even welcomed by China — to create a superficial “peaceful mood.” (Slightly abridged)