Toward the Reunion of the Two Koreas

Just at beginning of the new year 2018, on Tuesday, January 2, South Korea proposed to North Korea the holding of high-level talks on the following week to discuss the participation of both countries in the Winter Olympic Games. They are to be hosted by Pyeong Chang, a South Korean county located about 70 kilometers south of the inter-Korean border. It would represent “an innovative opportunity to improve relations,” said the south.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon proposed that the two Koreas meet on Tuesday, January 9, in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone, the usual place for this kind of encounter.

If Pyongyang accepts, and the proposed meeting takes place, it would be the first contact of this nature between the governments of the two Koreas in more than two years.

The proposal came after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in year’s end speech, said that he would be open to dialogue with the South so that his country could send a delegation to the Olympic event to be held in South Korea, February 19-25.

So far, only two artistic skaters from the DPRK have been announced:  Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-ik, already qualified for the Pyeong Chang games.

Joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea was to take place, as every year, in the next few days. However, the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, agreed to postpone them until after the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeong Chang. They want to try to improve conditions to work for an understanding between Pyongyang and Seoul.

“I think it would help enormously to ensure the success of the Pyeon Chang Winter Olympic Games that you show your intention to delay the exercises during the event” These were Moon’s words to Trump in a recent phone conversation. The US president agreed and told Moon that he could inform Pyongyang that there will be no war games during the sports event, as can be read in the transcript of the conversation

The decision to postpone joint military exercises occurred after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in his New Year’s message, expressed his wish that his country participate in the Winter Olympics.

Seoul had already asked Washington to consider postponing the exercises, to prevent the government of North Korea from responding by carrying out a new weapons test.

For now, North Korea’s response to the meeting proposed by Seoul for next January 9 is still pending. It is expected that the participation of the North Korean athletes in the games will be closely examined.

“Ratifying the will of our leader, we will maintain a close and sincere contact” regarding North Korean participation in the Olympic Games to be held in South Korea from 9 to 25 February,” said Ri Son-gwon, who leads inter-Korean affairs in Pyongyang, to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

“We will hold working conversations about our potential sending a delegation to those Winter Olympics that will be held in South Korea.”

However, Ri did not specify whether North Korea would accept the offer to hold a high-level meeting on January 9, or if the talks for the time being will be limited to communication through the telephone line installed at the border. It has not been operated for two years and has been the only communications channel between the two countries.

In Seoul, Yoon Young-chan, on behalf of President Moon Jae-in, celebrated the news. “I think the announcement shows an advance towards a situation in which communication [between the two countries] is possible at all times,” he said in a brief statement to the media.

In case the high-level meeting takes place, it would be the first of this kind in more than two years between the two countries, which have remained [formally] at war for the last 65 years. It would come after a year of special tension over Pyongyang’s weapons tests, Yoon said to Yonhap.

The South Korean president, Moon, since coming to power last May, has tried to achieve a rapprochement through dialogue with the North Korean government headed by Kim Jong-un. He has also insisted that Pyongyang participate in the Winter Games.

It should be recalled that, in September 2017, Donald Trump made derogatory comments about Moon Jae-in because of his position toward Pyongyang. Trump offended the South Korean, calling him a “beggar,” for his insistence on dialogue with North Korea. “

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Manuel E. Yepe is a lawyer, economist and journalist. He is a professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana.

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