A year has passed since the historical pre-New Year speech by Kim Jong-un on the eve of 2018, following which rapprochement between North and South Korea and US-North Korean dialog began as if coincidentally.
But it only seemed a coincidence. In reality, the wise collective government of North Korea sized the situation up, bid its time and found the right moment to produce its trump card – the announcement of its willingness to peacefully resolve the denuclearization problem – on the gambling table of global politics, winning the game.
Pyongyang achieved its main goal of fending off the threat of a US military strike, which at the time seemed inevitable, and, moreover, started a direct dialog with its main opponents not only on the Korean problems, but also on a number of crucial international matters. Serious players began seriously discussing important issues with North Korea, something it had long been striving after.
Today, the situation is not as optimistic as it was at the beginning and even in the process of the new dialogs. Washington describes it as stagnation, and Pyongyang as the dialog partners’ move away from the previous agreements. Moscow thinks that the situation around Korea remains complicated, despite some positive shifts. Beijing is taciturn, encouraging dialogs, but making it clear that it won’t give anyone free rein.
Closer to the end of the year, Pyongyang made several statements that raised concerns around the world. Official North Korean mass media announced that even though the country still supported the idea of denuclearization, it would not give up its nuclear weapons until the United States ceased all pressure and threats against it.
Indeed, the pressure and threats keep coming, first of all, from American “hawks” that demand unconditional denuclearization of North Korea. Seoul also suddenly remembered that it had not had a military training for a long time and organized a large-scale exercise for its Air Force. According to North Korean intelligence, South Korea continues growing its military might by introducing new combat units.
Yet even under these circumstances, Pyongyang is trying to maintain a dialog with Washington and points out that “President Trump demonstrates a will to improve Korean-US relations where possible,” but the Department of State, unlike the president, is doing everything it can to return the bilateral relations back to where they were a year ago.
North Koreans have become suspicious: can it be that this ambiguous position of the US has some hidden agenda? They keep repeating: denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula envisages “complete cessation of nuclear threats from the United States against North Korea,” and “the Americans should once again try to comprehend the meaning of the phrase “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.”
Simultaneously, North Korean media are now recalling the well-known mottoes of Kim Jong-il - “live our way” - and Kim Il-sung - “rely on our own strength,” and talking about escalated fight between certain superpowers aspiring for global dominance and the desire of “Imperialists” to reverse the worldwide movement of freedom-loving nations towards independence.
What is it? Pyongyang’s return to the previous position, to self-isolation? Not yet, apparently. Even though North Korea may well take this step under certain conditions, for example, in case of further increase of economic and military pressure, or in case of lack of the expected support from Russia and China.
But right now North Koreans are trying to show the world: we have not lost our sovereignty, and we observe the order of the agreed steps; it is up to you in your White and Blue Houses to handle your adversaries and decide how to deal with us.
North Korea is taking a timeout. It is a warning of a kind, not only for Washington and Seoul, but also for Moscow and Beijing.
Russia and China have understood this. The two countries’ deputy foreign ministers, Igor Morgulov and Gong Hyeon-U held a meeting after which they announced their intention to mount efforts for Korean settlement. The goal is to coordinate efforts with other stakeholders in order to secure the positive trends in the situation around Korea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov once again pointed to the need to reconsider sanctions against North Korea given the process towards the Korean settlement. Revision of the existing sanctions should not be delayed, he warned.
Apparently, it is not easy for the White House to realize this. Previously, Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, said that the US completely opposed Russia’s proposal to remove restrictions on North Korea’s bank operations. Last Friday, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo stated firmly that the US would not cease economic pressure on North Korea and would not ease the sanctions.
But Pyongyang has its own principles. It turns down the US call for “unilateral denuclearization” and advises Washington not to entertain the illusion that it would be able to make North Korea give up nuclear weapons through “pressure and threats.”
In case of further aggravations of relations with the United States, North Korea has another trump card up its sleeve: as the last resort, it can hide under China’s wing, something the White House is very reluctant to see happening.
To do so, North Korea has quite a few serious reasons. But it has its doubts, too: it wants to be an equal brother, even if a younger one.
So far, Pyongyang has demonstrated commitment to its course towards productive dialogs with all stakeholders. It just reminds the other parties that its position on denuclearization is firm and that it wants to be an equal and sovereign partner in all global affairs.