The 2018 Winter Olympics have begun! Significant from a sporting perspective, yes; but quite possibly significant from a geo-political perspective as well! These games held in Pyeongchang in South Korea have taken on added value following the presence of a senior delegation from neighbouring North Korea visiting the country to celebrate the games.
The senior delegation from North Korea featured Kim Jo-jung, the sister of leader Kim Jong-un and a member of the North Korean politburo and North Korean ceremonial head of state Kim Jong-nam. This senior delegation met with South Korean President Moon Jae-In and delivered a note from Kim Jong-un inviting the South Korean leader to North Korea for talks. President Moon Jae-In has been keen to use the games as an opportunity to reopen regular talks with North Korea. Any resulting summit would be the first of its kind for over ten years.
There could be a number of reasons behind this change of mood from the North Korean leadership. Firstly, this attempt at dialogue could be motivated by the current impact of economic sanctions and the growing effect they are having on North Korea. Secondly, this could be a move to create distance between South Korea and the United States. U.S Vice-President Mike Pence has denied this will happen claiming there is “no-daylight” between US and South Korea over talks, but there could be pressure if the two allies disagree over the next steps. Thirdly, it could be a genuine attempt from North Korea to re-engage with their neighbours and to reach an agreement of some description.
Undoubtedly, this should be seen as a positive step forward. Ongoing tensions between North Korea, the United States and its neighbouring allies have dominated the world scene over the last few years. Any sign North Korea is prepared to engage with the rest of the world should be welcomed.
However, this does also need to be treated with a level of caution. This charm offensive does not change the current facts. North Korea is still regularly testing inter-ballistic missiles on a regular basis. These missiles accompanied by their threats pose a real and severe threat to neighbouring countries. Additionally, there remains little evidence about what the current strategy is within the North Korean leadership. Kim Jong-un has proved more astute than many have given him credit for him on the world stage and this could be part of a larger policy move.
Therefore, let’s tentatively welcome any dialogue but now is not the time to get over-excited. Let’s see what the next few weeks and months hold but hopefully history will go on to record as the beginning of improved relations between North Korea and the West.