Asia Times, Andrew Salmon
The Winter Olympics offered a diplomatic breathing space with regard to tensions on the Korean peninsula—but what might happen next?
With the “Peace Olympics” in South Korea drawing to a close and the season for military drills in the region fast approaching, Asia Times surveys the key issues hanging over the Korean peninsula in the weeks and months ahead.
1. Why are the 2018 Winter Olympics so critical, in political terms?
They have offered a breathing space amid unprecedentedly high peninsular tensions. Following a furious and very personal war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile in November 2017. It had the range to reach all of the United States. Analysts are divided over how close North Korea is to possessing a full nuclear deterrent – questions hang, particularly, over its re-entry vehicles and targeting systems – but there is now a clear and present danger to the continental US. This changes the game for the Seoul-Washington alliance. Since the Korean War wound up in 1953, the alliance has been designed to defend South Korea against North Korea. Now, the US is also in North Korea’s crosshairs. Accordingly, the Trump administration has made the North Korea crisis the centerpiece of its foreign policy.
2. What does South Korean President Moon Jae-in want?
Since taking power in May 2017, the liberal Moon has consistently held out for dialogue with North Korea. His wishes were answered in January when North Korea announced that it would come to the Games. Moon wants to use the contacts and goodwill established during the Olympics to provide a springboard for post-Games talks to reduce tensions. Moon’s argument has been persuasive, with US President Donald Trump following his lead and agreeing to halt military exercises during the Games.