Monday February 12, 2018
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has upset all doomsday predictions that once the Winter Olympics Games are over, the tensions on the Korean peninsula would reappear. Kim’s invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang can be regarded as a "game changer." Moon has been non-committal, saying conditions need to be created first. The important thing is that Moon neither accepted Kim’s invitation nor declined. As a senior South Korean official put it, Moon has “practically accepted” the invitation. Thereby hangs a tale.
Left to himself Moon may want to visit Pyongyang. But a number of factors come into play. First and foremost, North Korea should refrain from missile tests, especially nuclear tests. Kim’s invitation to Moon implies that Pyongyang intends to hold back on missile and nuclear tests even after the Winter Games get over. On the contrary, if the joint US-South Korean military drills resume, all bets are off.
Therefore, Moon faces the daunting challenge of persuading the Trump administration to defer military drills. Now, that is not going to be easy. The US insists that North Korea should unilaterally suspend its missile and nuclear tests and does not accept any linkage with the US-South Korean military drills. Indeed, the sensible thing to do is to follow the suggestion by China and Russia on "double suspension" – ie., US and South Korea suspending military drills and North Korea reciprocally suspending missile and nuclear tests.