America plays catch-up with developments in North and South Korea
Developments in North and South Korea, between Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in have caught America napping
It all started in February this year.
The big story of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea was the participation of North Korea and the friendly tone struck by the two countries.
As the Games began in Pyeongchang, the South Korean and North Korean athletes walked in the opening ceremony as a joint team.
It was a moment heavy in symbolism, with their shared flag a neutral image of a “unified” Korean peninsula on a white backdrop.
North and South Korea even formed a combined women’s ice hockey team for the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Today, Friday, 27th April 2018, Kim Jong-un made history by crossing the border to meet South Korean president Moon Jae-in.
The North Korean leader then invited his rival to cross the heavily-armed border with him before they returned to the southern side for talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong-un also made history by crossing the border into South Korea for talks on nuclear weapons, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the south since the Korean War ended in 1953.
A joint statement issued by Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in after the summit said the two had confirmed their goal of achieving “a nuclear-free Korean peninsula through complete denuclearisation”.
The statement did not provide any new specific measures how to achieve the objective.
North Korea has placed its nuclear weapons up for negotiations. It has previously used the term “denuclearisation” to say it can disarm only when the US withdraws its 28,500 troops in South Korea.
Kim Jong-un reportedly joked to the South Korean President that he wouldn’t “interrupt your early morning sleep anymore” with missile tests.
Kim Jong-un has pledged a “new history” in relations with his neighbour.
In a moment rich with symbolism and pomp, South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and Mr Kim shook hands at the border.
Mr Kim said it was the “starting point” for peace, after crossing the military line that divides the peninsula.
It comes just months after warlike rhetoric from North Korea.
The border talks are the first time a North Korean leader has stepped foot in the south since the Korean War ended in 1953.
The visit saw both leaders inspect an honour guard before posing for a photo inside the Peace House, where the summit was to take place, in front of a painting of South Korea’s Bukhan Mountain.
The historic visit, which comes ahead of a planned summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump – is the latest move in a gradual thawing of relations between North and South Korea
Last month, Kim Jong-un hosted a delegation from South Korea in what was thought to be the first time he had spoken face-to-face with officials from the south since he came to power in 2011.
When Friday’s first session ended, the pair separated for lunch and Mr Kim returned to the North in a heavily guarded black limousine.
When he returned in the afternoon, the leaders took part in a ceremony consisting of the planting of a pine tree using soil and water from both countries.
The pair shovelled soil on the roots of the tree and unveiled a stone marker featuring their names, official titles and a message that read: “Planting peace and prosperity.”
The summit will conclude with the leaders signing an agreement and delivering a joint statement before dinner. The banquet will be held on the South’s side and the menu is as symbolic as the other rituals.
Few had predicted a development like this, as North Korea continued its nuclear and missile tests and stepped up its rhetoric through 2016 and 2017.
The rapprochement began in January when Mr Kim suggested he was “open to dialogue” with South Korea.
The following month the two countries marched under one flag at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
A thawing of tensions between the two Koreas exposes cracks in the alliance between Seoul and Washington.
South Korea is determined to press ahead with improving ties with North Korea, arranging family reunions between those divided by the Korean war and seeking to cool military tensions – despite the US’s commitment to a policy of “maximum pressure” on Kim Jong-un.
The growing rapprochement between the two neighbours – still technically at war – has exposed a disconnect in policy between Seoul and Washington, a split Pyongyang has been trying to encourage since the end of the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
It became plain after US vice-president Mike Pence visited South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics.
Pence had attempted to conceal cracks in the alliance, declaring there was “no daylight” between the US and South Koean in policy toward Pyongyang.
During his flight back to the US, Pence said: “No pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization.
The media in North Korea immediately took aim at the US.
“Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom,” said a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, published by the ruling Workers’ party. “His behaviour is nothing but an ugly sight being reminded of crazy Trump.”
“There’s a definite fissure in the alliance. You can see it in Pence’s face if nothing else,” said Van Jackson, a former policy adviser to the US secretary of defence.
“The US and South Korea want to present a united front, but they have completely different priorities: South Korea doesn’t want war, and the US doesn’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons.”
Despite Washington’s hardline approach to dealing with North Korea, Pence later made a small concession, saying the US was willing to talk directly with North Korea in what he called “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time”, according to the Washington Post.
“Pence’s strategy in Pyeongchang backfired in a big way,” Analysts say.
“it lent credibility to the narrative of a US-South Korea split and gave North Korea ammunition to blame the United States if inter-Korean engagement falls apart.”
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