What lies behind Kim Jong-un's Winter Olympics decision? - EXCLUSIVE | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

23 February, Saturday


What lies behind Kim Jong-un's Winter Olympics decision? - EXCLUSIVE

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Last week North Korea agreed to send athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea and said its nuclear weapons are aimed at the US, not neighboring countries. In parallel, South Korean officials stated that they will resist denuclearizing of Korean peninsula.
 
Yesterday North Korea again threatened to pull out of the Winter Olympics after Seoul praised US President Donald Trump. In this case, how can the Winter Olympics assure constructive talks between North and South Korea?
 
Benjamin Charlton
Senior Analyst for East Asia with the global macro analysis and advisory firm Oxford Analytica
 
Benjamin Charlton, Senior Analyst for East Asia with the global macro analysis and advisory firm Oxford Analytica stated for Eurasia Diary that the best-case scenario is that North Korea attends the Games and that this new cooperation leads to further talks that aim to de-escalate confrontation and increase cooperation in order to reduce the risk of conflict. Cooperation on the Winter Olympics is a step towards this, but a very small step.
 
So far the talks this month haven’t gone very far beyond cooperation on the Games themselves, as far as we know. That said, it's a breakthrough that there is dialogue at all. Ongoing working-level talks and the presence of North Korean personnel in South Korea during the Games will create opportunities for discreet talks on more substantial issues, should both governments want this.
 
The importance of the Winter Games for Kim Jong-un
 
Political analyst Benjamin Charlton said that Pyongyang's bid to participate in the Winter Olympics may just be opportunistic. 
 
According to him, participation has value to the Kim Jong-un regime inasmuch as it wins the North Korean leadership prestige in the eyes of the North Korean people. It will be presented as evidence of the regime's competence in foreign policy.
 
If we assume (generously) that Pyongyang's intentions do extend beyond the Olympics alone, we could point to the fact that Pyongyang has signaled several times over the last few months that it has now developed its nuclear and missile capabilities as far as it needs to. 
 
“That means that it might in principle consider halting further development in exchange for concessions from Seoul and Washington. The Winter Olympics move may be another signal that it is ready to open negotiations,” Benjamin Charlton added. 
 
Expectations of the US and China from Korea talks
 
No government wants a conflict on the Korean peninsula, so any development that moves things even slightly towards avoiding a conflict will be welcome news to everyone.
 
In the long term, China would not want the two Koreas to get too friendly, because it doesn't want Korean unification with a US-friendly Seoul as the dominant partner. It wants a degree of inter-Korean friction. 
 
But the prospect of close inter-Korean partnership is so remote at present that China's interest in preventing conflict takes precedence and any inter-Korean interaction that reduces the risk of conflict is welcome.
 
The U.S. and Chinese interests on the peninsula are determined by the wider context of US-China strategic rivalry.
 
China and the United States share an overwhelming interest in preventing conflict on the peninsula, and also in denuclearization, but their interests diverge in the long-run. 
 
Beijing wants to keep the two Koreas divided, with an anti-US North Korea as a buffer between China and a pro-US state governed from Seoul. 
 
Washington, however, would ultimately like to see the whole peninsula under a pro-US government.
 
Cooperating on the Winter Olympics is a promising development, but it won't necessarily lead to broader engagement.
 
However, it's also not likely -- though this may be Pyongyang's hope -- that it will lead to serious frictions between Seoul and Washington that will weaken the US commitment to the alliance.
 
Farid Hasanov

Eurasia Diary

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