North Korea has declared a radical policy shift by announcing it will immediately suspend tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to pursue peaceful relations with the outside world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s latest surprise move, which came after a series of attention-grabbing proposals for talks he has made since early this year, has special importance.
Kim himself announced the testing freeze as a formal decision by the Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party, which sets guiding policies for the nation.
Unlike Pyongyang’s previous moves toward dialogue, which were unveiled by the South Korean government, the latest decision was made public by none other than Kim, the chairman of the ruling party. That means it is tantamount to his promise to the international community.
There is little doubt that it is a bold diplomatic gambit that reflects Kim’s strong desire to ensure the success of his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, which is expected to be held by the end of June.
The United States has been straining every nerve to prevent the proliferation of long-range missiles that can reach its mainland as well as of nuclear arms.
Kim also promised to shut down his nation’s nuclear test site as part of his attempt to convince the Trump administration of the benefits of the Trump-Kim summit.
Kim’s overture should be appreciated as a positive action. It should at least be welcomed as a move by North Korea to halt its dangerous arms programs.
But the undeniable fact is that to this day North Korea has been maneuvering to make economic and diplomatic gains by selling off only a small portion of its nuclear and missile programs in bits and pieces.
For the countries concerned, Kim’s actions in recent weeks represent only a starting point for grueling negotiations to make North Korea seriously committed to abandoning its nuclear ambitions.
One important implication of Pyongyang’s decision we need to recognize is that the secluded regime emphatically claims to be a nuclear power that has the technology to make nuclear warheads light and small enough to fit onto ballistic missiles.
The North is showing absolutely no signs of a willingness to part with its nuclear arms and the large arsenal of missiles it is believed to have built.
What is also notable about Kim’s announcement is his pledge to make greater efforts to rebuild the nation’s dilapidated economy to raise the living standards among the people.
If Kim is really serious about fixing the country’s economy, his only option is to take steps to persuade the international community to ease the economic sanctions against his country based on U.N. Security Council resolutions. That requires him to agree to the complete and verifiable denuclearization of his country.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is to meet Kim this week, should make the northern neighbor’s despot fully understand this point.
Kim should be convinced that his impoverished nation can never hope to achieve real economic development without giving up all the weapons of mass destruction it possesses.
It is said that both Moon and Trump are considering measures to bring a formal end to the Korean War, which ended with an armistice in 1953 but no actual peace treaty.
It is important for Japan to start readying itself for possible negotiations to establish a formal diplomatic relationship with North Korea while keeping pressure on the Kim regime to abandon its nuclear arsenal.
Now that Pyongyang has demonstrated its seriousness about pursuing dialogue with the international community, Tokyo should spare no effort to prepare for talks with the country.
For many years, Japan has been grappling with a thicket of formidable diplomatic challenges related to North Korea, such as settling the human rights problem of Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese citizens and starting formal negotiations for the normalization of bilateral relations, which involve issues concerning Japan’s war reparations to the North.
The Japanese government needs to seize the opening for talks the recent developments have created by making appropriate strategic responses to the rapidly changing situation in the Korean Peninsula.
–The Asahi Shimbun, April 22