Shared Willingness Needed to Extend Olympics Détente
The China Daily-Feb 6
Athletes of both sides of the divide on the Korean Peninsula are to parade together under a single flag and field a joint women’s ice hockey team at the Winter Olympics, which begin in Pyeongchang, the Republic of Korea, this week.
Most impressive of all, leading Pyongyang’s delegation will be the 90-year-old Kim Yong-nam, the nominal head of state of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Kim’s presence alone is being read as indication of Pyongyang’s seriousness about the inter-Korean rapprochement, leading many to believe what happens next in Pyeongchang will go beyond what Seoul is hoping to sell as “Peace Olympics”.
US Vice-President Mike Pence’s planned presence in Pyeongchang has also inspired some optimistic anticipations of a Pence-Kim meeting that many hope would be able to break the ice between Pyongyang and Washington and extend the Olympic detente.
After all, neither the White House nor Pence himself has ruled out such a meeting, which certainly qualifies as the “something good” he wished for. And who knows where a meeting like that may lead?
It would be wonderful if the detente between Pyongyang and Seoul could ultimately result in a similar thaw in ties between Washington and Pyongyang. But it is as well to err on the side of caution, since more likely than not, the latest ease in tensions on the Korean Peninsula will not bear such significant fruit.
Although Pence may not turn down a request for meeting, even talking, with Kim, his priority is to ensure Pyongyang does not “hijack” the games, and that the games are not exploited to undermine Washington’s “maximum pressure” strategy.
Rather than seeking to take advantage of this window of opportunity for direct communication, Pence’s visit seems intended to counter any initiatives by Pyongyang.
Washington and other stakeholders remain adamant about denuclearization as a precursor to talks with Pyongyang, but it steadfastly refuses any suggestion of that, which is why the olive branch extended by Pyongyang is viewed by Washington as a deceptive tactic to undermine international sanctions and weaken the US-ROK alliance.
Unless both sides show sincerity by making compromises to pave the way for talks of substance, the Olympics detente may not go far beyond the games, no matter how anxious Seoul is to “make the most of it”.
(First published in China Daily – http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201802/06/WS5a79ab12a3106e7dcc13b23e.html)