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A critical week

Feb 05,2018
With five days left before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Korean Peninsula is heading to a watershed moment. Amid a lull in the eight-month-long tension between North Korea and the United States over nuclear provocations, 26 leaders from 21 countries, including North Korea, are bracing for a diplomatic battle in South Korea. What kind of diplomacy will President Moon Jae-in play out in his meetings with leaders of 14 nations, including America, China and Japan, to address the unstoppable nuclear threats from North Korea?

Moon showed a willingness to find a breakthrough in the diplomatic deadlock between Seoul and Pyongyang to pave the way to peace. But North Korea will almost certainly press ahead with a large-scale military parade in Pyongyang on the eve of the opening of the Olympics despite the international community’s dissuasion. The parade is most likely aimed at showing off its new status as a nuclear power.

Moon is trying to take advantage of the Olympics to offer an opportunity for the U.S. delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to meet with its North Korean counterpart in PyeongChang. But President Donald Trump warned that no one knows what will happen after the Olympics, while Pence stressed that he comes to PyeongChang to deliver the message that “strategic patience” is over. Washington is deeply worried about South Korea deviating from international sanctions.

The United States will resume the joint drills shortly after the Paralympics are over on March 18 and call for tougher sanctions on North Korea. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined in, saying that he will call for the resumption of delayed military exercises as soon as possible when he meets with Moon in PyeongChang.

For Moon, his meetings with Pence and Han Zheng, a Politburo member of China’s Communist Party, on Thursday and a summit with Abe on the following day are very important. He must demonstrate his determination to respect the Korea-U.S. alliance to denuclearize North Korea. He must urge Beijing to fully comply with UN sanctions to force North Korea to come to the negotiating table. Without a chance of denuclearization, any dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang is meaningless.

Moon must understand the growing public concern. There is no citizen who believes that peace will arrive easily. We need to welcome North Korean athletes, but must not beg for dialogue. He must not forget that any inter-Korean exchanges backfired in the past without getting public support.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 5, Page 34