A year ago, North Korea and the United States seemed hell bent on a confrontation that might have unleashed untold consequences on the region and indeed the world. The regime’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump were engaged on very personal name calling that had all the dignity of a kindergarten sandpit, while Pyongyang was aggressively testing its ballistic missile capabilities and also miniaturising a nuclear device to be able to sit atop a warhead to be targeted at its enemies.
A year later, we have seen both Kim and Trump meet in Singapore, with Pyongyang promising loosely to end its nuclear programme. Intelligence reports, however, suggest that its actions do not match its words, and there is a growing concern that indeed there is work afoot on its weapons programmes in the reclusive nation.
If there is cause for hope, it is in the thawing of relations between North and South Korea across the De-Militarised Zone, and there now seems to be a genuine desire, if not for outright peace, then certainly for better communication and more cooperation and coordination between Pyongyang and Seoul. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have developed a personal working relationship, as was evident in the latter’s recent visit to Pyongyang. Moon became the first South Korean leader to deliver a speech to the North Korean public when he spoke at the Mass Games in Pyongyang with Kim on his side.
It has also paved the way for the North Korean leader to visit the south — the first such since his grandfather or father — an event that is unparalleled since the three-year conflict of 1950-1953 had ended in a tenuous ceasefire rife with Cold War geopolitical tensions.
There is a danger that the US may indeed be sidelined somewhat by this growing accord on the Korean peninsula — and Washington has already accused Russia of not fully supporting the tough United Nations sanctions imposed by the Security Council as the standoff between Pyongyang and its neighbours worsened.
Trump had cancelled a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang two months ago — a sign of Washington’s unease at the regime’s failure to fully embrace its pledge to end its nuclear programme.
As relations between North and South Korea have improved, Washington is now seeking to build on that momentum and will once more send Pompeo to the region, while the notion of a second summit between Kim and Trump is also being floated.
Certainly, any meeting and high-level contact between the Pyongyang regime and the administration in Washington are to be welcomed. It will allow for both sides to refocus their efforts to ensure that peace continues to endure on the peninsula.