All eyes are now on North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as he prepares to meet with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the Inter-Korean Summit this Friday, and probably with US President Donald Trump in late May or early June.
In order to create a friendlier atmosphere for the upcoming talks, Pyongyang recently announced that it would call an immediate halt to all nuclear tests and ballistic missile test-firing activities, as well as scrap a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.
The United States, China and South Korea have all welcomed the decision. Japan has also welcomed Pyongyang’s move, but it remained highly skeptical about what will actually happen.
As Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has put it, “stopping all nuclear tests” doesn’t mean “denuclearization”, not to mention the fact that Pyongyang’s latest announcement does not even touch on what it is going to do with its short-to-medium range ballistic missiles in its arsenal that can hit Japan.
It is understandable that Japan has every reason to be skeptical.
It is because Kim’s decision to halt his country’s nuclear tests is apparently a very smart diplomatic manoeuver intended to make all the major parties, i.e. Washington and Seoul, continue to engage in dialogue with him so as to eventually hammer out a “reciprocal” deal, under which the West would ease sanctions against Pyongyang and provide “money rewards” to boost the North’s economic development.
However, the problem is, stopping nuclear tests isn’t necessarily equal to “denuclearization”.
According to the definition laid down by the US and Japan, “denuclearization” means that North Korea has to take “irreversible” steps to totally dismantle all its nuclear weapons and the facilities producing them, and international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be charged with overseeing and verifying the entire process.
Obviously, the cessation of nuclear tests for the time being and the scrapping of the Punggye-ri test site are miles away from true denuclearization.
As such, we can tell that Kim’s latest decision is indeed nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at facilitating a more conducive environment for the upcoming talks with South Korea and the US.
As to the fundamental question of whether Pyongyang would eventually agree to give up its nuclear weapons, we believe it all depends on how the talks are going to play out.
All this said, though the nuclear tests halt by North Korea doesn’t signify anything in terms of true denuclearization, we believe Kim’s upcoming summits with Moon and Trump still need to be paid attention.
Dialogue, after all, is always better than sabre-rattling.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 23
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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