Guest Editorial: North-South Korea talks a positive step
It is probably the case, thinking long-term, that North and South Korean reconciliation and possibly eventual reunification are the most reasonable resolution of the difficulties between the prosperous South and poor but heavily armed North of the peninsula.
Dialogue between the two, prompted by a need for coordination on how to deal with the upcoming Winter Olympics, is therefore a useful step forward.
The meeting, the first since 2015, proposed Monday by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in his annual New Year’s Day address and consistent with the approach to North Korea of relatively new South Korean President Moon Jae-in, is scheduled for Jan. 9.
It will be held in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone between the two countries.
The topics on the agenda are likely to be, first, the modalities of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics, to begin Feb. 9 at Pyeongchang in South Korea.
The topic of meetings of families divided by the border, a recurrent subject, is also bound to arise.
A serious problem standing in the way of greater cooperation and even eventual reunification between the two is the attitude toward that possibility of China, North Korea’s largest protector and trading partner, and the United States, South Korea’s longtime ally and protector.
China doesn’t want a unified Korea, dominated by an economically much stronger south, backed by the United States, extending off its shore.
The United States doesn’t want to give up its many bases, 28,500 troops, and frequent joint military exercises in the region, either to be ended or reduced.
For the Pentagon, its military command in South Korea is headed by a four-star general, a coveted slot.
It is also the case that North Korea has a border, albeit a short one, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which would become a reconfigured, unified Korean border with that country.
All of that is further down the road than is necessary to look at now.
In the short run, talks between the leadership of the two Koreas at lower levels over immediate, introductory subjects, the Olympics and divided family meetings, taking attention off North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and ambitions, potentially reducing tensions, can be seen as useful.
Call them exploratory, or a South Korean fishing expedition, or an effort to assure security at the Winter Games.
Whatever way, these parties talking to each other is better than the North firing off ballistic missiles and the South and the United States flying bombers and sailing expensive naval vessels around the divided peninsula.
What China and the United States should want to see in Korea is peace and quiet.
How the two Koreas and the world get there is the hard question.
These initial talks on neutral subjects could help.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 2