By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times
North Korea marked the 70th founding anniversary on September 9 with a military parade in Kim Il-sung Square, the sixth parade since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took office. It is widely believed that at such a delicate moment when North Korea’s relations with the US and the process of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula are stuck in a logjam, Pyongyang has deliberately tried to keep a low profile in the show of military might , suggesting a détente with the international community.
North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, which are considered a threat to the US, were not displayed in the parade, and the show of conventional weapons was not as grand as expected.
US President Donald Trump tweeted that it was “a big and very positive statement” from Kim to demonstrate his commitment to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
It was also unusual that Kim did not give a speech at the parade. Before the annual show of military might began, Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, delivered a speech, looking back at the progress the country has made in politics, economy, culture and defense over the last 70 years. Yet it is notable that he did not mention the nation’s nuclear prowess, but emphasized the significance of concentrating every effort on promoting economic development.
At the event, Kim waved at the crowd with Li Zhanshu, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, from a balcony of the Grand People’s House on Kim Il-sung Square, which combined with the three meetings between Kim and President Xi Jinping in the first half of 2018, is considered a new impetus by the People’s Daily to boost China-North Korea friendly relations.
Reduced tensions since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are precious for North Korea. With the thaw in relations with China and South Korea, North Korea has found a way out of the predicament.
Then, Pyongyang further demonstrated its commitment to denuclearization by halting its intercontinental ballistic missile tests, blowing up the Punggye-ri nuclear test site on May 24 and dismantling the Tongchang-ri missile launch site.
However, the Trump-Kim summit on June 12 failed to achieve any substantial breakthrough, and the war-ending declaration between North Korea, South Korea and the US, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in had made efforts to push, did not materialize. Trump insists on comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID), while North Korea intends to denuclearize the Peninsula in stages. Due to the divisions between Pyongyang and Washington over the denuclearization process, US sanctions have yet to be lifted.
With changing international environment and shifting domestic focus in North Korea, it is unlikely that Pyongyang will continue to take a hard line and the international society has increasing expectations of a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. However, the US has still threatened to increase sanctions on North Korea unless a denuclearization plan that satisfies Washington is implemented.
Pyongyang seems to have recognized that nuclear weapons are becoming a burden for the nation. Developments have shown that the country is sincere in its commitment to denuclearization. Kim has always been expecting a solution to security concerns through negotiations.
The South Korean government will continue to serve as a mediator between the US and North Korea. Moon Jae-in is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on September 18. The UN General Assembly will convene at the end of September, during which the US and South Korea will hold “in-depth consultations” on the nuclear issue.
A detailed roadmap is needed to fully address the nuclear issue, yet it is not enough to only push North Korea to present a nuclear disarmament timeline.
There is no doubt that Pyongyang is continuously sending signals of reconciliation, while the US policy toward North Korea remains stubborn and tough. To put it plainly, lack of mutual trust is only a lame excuse for tensions between the US and North Korea. Some in the US fundamentally believe that North Korea is not a “normal country” qualified to negotiate with the US – that is the crux of strained bilateral relations.
The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University. [email protected]
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