In a striking U-turn, Kim Jong Un has shifted from bellicosity to diplomacy.
Three of Asia’s most enduring flashpoints are rooted in acts of territorial partition dating back to the 1940s. Diverse as they are, the emergence of the new states of Israel and Pakistan, and the “temporary” division of Japanese-occupied Korea by the victorious United States and Soviet Union, each created a festering stand-off: at best a tense peace, punctuated by episodes of savage conflict.
Seventy years on, all these situations retain their capacity to explode into conflagration, now potentially nuclear. Conversely, none of this trio looks remotely close to any resolution that would definitively eliminate risk, much less heal the original wounds. Perhaps all must be considered permanent, with conflict management and containment the best we can hope for.
That said, while underlying tensions persist, the ambient weather and atmospherics in such hotspots can alter dramatically; rarely more so than on the Korean Peninsula in recent months. The contrast is startling. As 2017 drew to a close, Kim Jong Un, still only 34, was entering his seventh year as North Korea’s supreme leader – a role he inherited, with scant time to prepare, in December 2011 when a fatal heart attack claimed his long-ailing father Kim Jong Il.
Remarkably, perhaps uniquely, during those first six years Kim Jong Un neither left his realm nor met any other head of state; not even old allies like China. This reinforced the image of North Korea as a hermit kingdom. The term has become a cliché, but that does not make it false. It was first used in reference to the Daewongun, Korea’s regent during 1863-73, whose reaction to the wider world’s encroachment was to batten down the hatches and try to keep everyone out while attempting reforms at home. That failed. China, Russia and Japan all fought over Korea – a “shrimp among whales,” as a glum Korean proverb has it. Predictably, ascendant Meiji Japan saw off the other two declining empires, occupying Korea until defeated in 1945. All Koreans know this harsh history, though the two post-1945 states on the peninsula drew sharply different lessons from it.
From Hermit to Meme
But back to the present, or the recent past at least. Kim Jong Un used to be an unknown unknown, in Donald Rumsfeld’s parlance. Kim Jong Il was thought to have just two sons until 2003, when a Japanese sushi chef emerged with a memoir of court life in Pyongyang; revealing among much else a youngest third son, his daddy’s favorite. Rumors spread, but not until September 2010 did Kim Jong Un first appear in public and in print. Barely a year later, he was in charge.
In the internet era, hermitude takes on ironic new twists. Kim Jong Un’s air of mystery swiftly made him famous and the world curious. He, or his image, became a meme. As early as 2013, the world’s most-read website for news (if that is the word) had a billboard near Times Square in New York with photos of two 30-somethings, captioned: “The Kims. They’re on the same page.” Even then, the Mail Online could be sure that passers-by would recognize and respond to North Korea’s reclusive dictator, no less than to the rather less reclusive Ms. Kardashian.
Kim Jong Un was a gift to tabloid media everywhere. Lazy stereotypes and clichés abounded, and as usual misled. In particular, any idea of Kim, or indeed North Korea, as crazy or irrational is itself mad. That said, some of Kim’s actions reinforced the image of a sinister James Bond villain who would stop at nothing. Rivals were briskly liquidated, as in December 2013 when reportedly Kim summarily executed his uncle by marriage and mentor Jang Song Thaek. If that is par for the course in autocracies, the flagrant murder of his half-brother Kim Jong Nam with a banned nerve agent at a busy international airport in February 2017 showed utter contempt for global norms. Yet the headlines soon faded, and North Korea remains wholly unpunished for the killing.
Above all, as no one has forgotten or should forget, in 2016 Kim Jong Un caused global alarm by greatly accelerating North Korea’s nuclear program. He upped the pace of nuclear testing, from one test every three years to three in 2016-17 alone, including North Korea’s first thermonuclear bomb (also called a hydrogen bomb or H-bomb) in September 2017. Furthermore, Kim launched ever more, bigger, and better ballistic missiles: 20 in 2017 alone, including three intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking the continental United States.
The world responded in its familiar, inevitable, if hackneyed fashion. Three new UN Security Council resolutions in 2017 – each one unanimous, like their eight predecessors since 2006 – censured North Korea and mandated ever tighter economic sanctions. In early 2018, Chinese trade figures suggested Beijing was finally enforcing the sanctions, especially a ban of several of Pyongyang’s main exports, more vigorously and rigorously than sometimes in the past.
While North Korea’s actions were what created the crisis, it was aggravated in 2017 by the new U.S. president’s modes of reaction. Scornful of and determined to be different from his predecessors, especially Barack Obama, Donald Trump broke new but dangerous and often demeaning ground in style and substance alike. Taunting tweets and insults – “Little Rocket Man,” “my nuclear button is bigger than yours,” and so forth – were not only unhelpful but also unbefitting the dignity of the office of U.S. president as all previous incumbents had conceived it.
Words aside, Trump pointedly would not rule out military options. In January, when the White House nixed Victor Cha’s almost-sealed nomination as U.S. ambassador in Seoul at the last minute, it confirmed, despite disingenuous denials, that the so-called “bloody nose” option of a “limited” strike on North Korean nuclear facilities was under serious consideration – although experts like Cha were unanimous in the judgment that this would risk triggering all-out war on the peninsula.
After North Korea’s biggest ICBM test yet on November 28, most pundits expected things to get worse. In its first issue of the new year, The Economist’s Banyan column was headlined: “2018 will not be any quieter than 2017 on the Korean peninsula.” With gloomy assurance, it concluded: “Expect this year to be as nerve-racking as [last], if not more.”
New Year, New Turn
Not so. Instead 2018 has brought a welcome and unexpected turn to peace, at least for now. Most startlingly, Trump and Kim not only stopped calling each other childish names but have actually met, in the first ever U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 12. Moreover, by then, the artist formerly known as a hermit had already racked up five other summit meetings in as many months, in a dazzling display of deft diplomacy and subtle sequencing.
This U-turn is extraordinary on many levels. Not just substantively, but also for the skills that Kim and his advisers have shown in navigating systems and milieux alien to them and unlike their own. Had Pyongyang hired the likes of Weber Shandwick or Burson-Marsteller to plan Kim Jong Un’s coming out party and image transformation on the global stage, it is hard to see how such masters of the PR spinmeister’s art could possibly have done Kim a better job.
Phase I: Seduce Seoul
Moon Jae-in, the left-leaning president that South Koreans elected in May 2017 after Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, is a well-known enthusiast for the former “sunshine” policy of engagement begun by Kim Dae-jung (president during 1998-2003) and continued by his successor Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008). As Roh’s chief of staff, Moon visited Pyongyang for the second North-South summit in October 2007. Yet for his early months in the Blue House the North shunned and bad-mouthed him, ignoring or rejecting his overtures. This was puzzling.
Yet we can now see that Kim Jong Un was just biding his time. In 2017 his focus was nukes and missiles. On November 29 he declared mission accomplished: the “state nuclear force” was now complete. A month later his New Year’s address, while mostly standard Pyongyang boilerplate and unyielding toward the United States, included a message of goodwill to South Korea for the imminent PyeongChang Olympics. Kim, in effect, invited himself to the Games, despite previously evincing zero interest. North Korea had not applied to participate, while the tensions it caused made some countries wonder aloud if the peninsula was safe for their athletes.
Moon took the bait, as Kim knew he would. PyeongChang facilitated a rapid get-to-know-you process. Behind the razzmatazz of sports, cheerleaders, concerts, and taekwondo there were intensive little-publicized talks with the two top-level delegations attending the opening and closing ceremonies, led by Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong and (more contentiously) Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s point man on the South, where he is blamed for 2010’s sinking of the ROK corvette Cheonan. Reciprocating, two of Moon’s top advisers went North in March for a cordial dinner with Kim. In April, Kim attended a K-pop concert in Pyongyang, posing for a selfie with ROK artists whose music remains strictly verboten to his subjects.
All this climaxed in the memorable scenes at Panmunjom on April 27: the first inter-Korean summit in 11 years and only the third ever. A long and varied day, carefully choreographed for TV in the unlikely but inspired setting of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), this burnished the image of both leaders. But it was more than a mere photo-opportunity. The Panmunjom Declaration signed by Moon and Kim is substantial and already being implemented, as discussed below.
Phase II: Tempt Trump
If getting Seoul onside was easy, Washington was a trickier task. Amid his “fire and fury” rhetoric, Trump had occasionally expressed a willingness to meet Kim – who now boldly took him up on it. The intermediary was Moon’s National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong, who went almost directly from Pyongyang to Washington, D.C.; Trump at once accepted, without consulting his staff. Kim gambled, correctly, on Trump’s self-belief as a deal-maker, and his curiosity. There were wobbles along the way: Trump briefly called the summit off after some rudery from Pyongyang, which sent Kim scurrying to Panmunjom to meet Moon again – itself a hopeful sign. But with both sides invested in the process, the Singapore summit happened.
As nearly everyone save Trump agrees, the Singapore summit was a big win for Kim. (The Economist again: “Kim Jong Won.”) Unlike the Panmunjom Declaration’s detailed pledges and timelines – or indeed the minutely crafted multilateral accord with Iran which Trump pulled the United States out of in May – the Singapore joint statement is brief and vague, long on generalities and short on specifics. Kim committed to nothing concrete, except returning the remains of fallen American soldiers from the Korean War, which has no bearing on the nuclear issue. Yet as a free bonus, Trump cancelled the annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises without consulting the Pentagon or Seoul, though Moon can live with that given his own agenda.
Trump’s gestalt switch from war (so 2017) to peace also includes further retreats. Ditching its never feasible demand – technically or politically – for full and immediate North Korean denuclearization, the Trump administration has accepted that this (a) will take time, and (b) must be mutual. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others now echo Pyongyang’s longstanding mantra: “denuclearization of the peninsula.” What the U.S.-South Korea quid pro quo should be is unspecified, but a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War may be in the frame. Yet as Pompeo’s latest visit shows, with Pyongyang complaining of “gangster-like” U.S. pressure, for CVID (“Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Dismantlement”), the road ahead is difficult. For now at least, Trump’s conviction that he struck a deal will keep the peninsula peaceful.
Phase III: Square China
Kim Jong Un’s audacious outreach to foes rendered it imperative to also, at last, mend fences with friends. Trumping (dare one say) his single Singapore summit with Trump, and his pair of trysts with Moon, Kim also fitted in no fewer than three forays in as many months to the de facto protector whom he had been cold-shouldering for the past six years. The timing of his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping – two in Beijing, one in Dalian – shows close coordination on how to handle Trump. Kim even flew to Singapore in a Chinese aircraft. With classic communist fraternal hypocrisy, both leaders pledged undying comradeship – as if no hiccup or hiatus had ever interrupted their relationship. A flurry of subsequent lower-level meetings, many economic-related, suggests that Sino-North Korean relations are rapidly being restored and normalized at all levels.
This summitry is ongoing. Moon Jae-in is due in Pyongyang in the fall for a third meeting with Kim. No date has yet been set, but he will take care to avoid appearing enrolled into North Korea’s lavish celebrations of its 70th birthday in early September. That month Kim may also meet Vladimir Putin at a forum in Vladivostok; or if not there, then likely somewhere else soon.
All this outreach has one big exception. North Korean media, mostly restrained now on the United States and South Korea, still lambaste Japan with gusto. Shinzo Abe, who (lest it be forgotten) in 2013 sent a special envoy to Pyongyang to try to resolve the longstanding abductions impasse, is a convenient whipping-boy. That may not be permanent. Given the skills Kim has shown this year, in time even normalization with Japan may go on his agenda – if the price is right.
Beware Beltway Blinders
What to make of this outbreak of peace in Korea? Beltway blinders are unhelpful, as always. This is neither about the United States alone nor only nukes, vital as both are. Kim Jong Un has cleverly loosed several different hares this year, far from identical though their paths interweave.
The new inter-Korean détente is substantial. Since April’s summit, North and South have held many meetings with diverse agendas: tension reduction, family reunions, sports cooperation, cross-border road and rail links, opening a liaison office, and more. All these areas have seen some progress. Transport is especially interesting. In June, South Korea joined the originally communist-era Organization for Cooperation Between Railways (OSJD). Pyongyang had in the past always vetoed Seoul’s membership, but no longer. With joint survey teams soon to inspect the North’s major transport arteries, including the entire western railway track up to Sinuiju, the overnight Seoul-Beijing express could be leaving sooner than many imagine.
Why is Kim doing this? Not brotherly love, but a calculated need to get South Korea onside. This chimes with Moon’s own agenda, which is twofold. Ideologically Moon is committed to sunshine, believing engagement is the best path to peace. More immediately he seeks to ward off any return to last year’s tensions, which unnerved all South Koreans. For both leaders, deepening détente starts on the peninsula itself. And unlike Roh Moo-hyun in 2007, who signed up to wide ranging cooperation months before leaving office only for the incoming conservative Lee Myung-bak to cancel it all, Moon Jae-in still has almost four more years to serve and is very popular at home.
The road to Pyongyang is bumpy, figuratively and literally. On July 20, North Korean media sneered at Seoul’s claims to be driving the new peninsular peace process, and renewed demands for the return of 13 restaurant workers whose 2016 defection it claims was involuntary. North Korea always plays hardball – but Kim needs Moon and hence is unlikely to push too hard.
What about the “S” word? Rebuilding North Korea’s decrepit roads and railways would require exemptions to or a lifting of both multilateral UN and bilateral sanctions, as would any revival of private commerce like the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which then-President Park closed in 2016. For now, the party line is that all sanctions must remain until North Korea’s full denuclearization. But as peninsular détente deepens, that hard line will come under strain. China and Russia will urge the Security Council to give peace a chance, and may find support for that stand.
Beijing, of course, has other options. As North Korea’s only major trade partner, its enforcement (or lack of enforcement) of sanctions is crucial. Since November’s ICBM test China had tightened the screws, but now it seems to be easing off again. More broadly, Sino-North Korean normalization is a second hare loosed by Kim, and like North-South détente (but even more so) this looks set to last. Ever since the Deng Xiaoping era, China has sought to modernize North Korea in its own image. Kim Jong Il long resisted, though frequent visits in his final years suggested he was wavering. It remains unclear if his son is ready for full Dengism, but political and economic ties are now burgeoning. A case in point: Having in 2015 completed a new $330 million bridge across the Yalu near Dandong, Beijing is now forking out a further $90 million to connect it to North Korea’s road network – as Kim had unaccountably but pointedly failed to do hitherto.
Détente with Seoul and normalization with Beijing are both strong hares, which may run far. By contrast the third hare, outreach to Trump, is a flimsy leveret whose prospects are much less sure. The United States and North Korea have not yet agreed to anything concrete, nor has Kim Jong Un delivered anything substantial. If Kim continues to temporize, even Trump’s self-belief may eventually give way to an angry “emperor’s clothes” awakening: Damn, the boy fooled me.
That will be an anxious moment. Yet the balance of forces has moved on since 2017. Trump would find no takers in the region now for any bid to resume “maximum pressure” on North Korea – unless Kim does something very stupid like another nuclear test, which is unlikely as discussed below. Even Japan, which has little to show for Abe’s avid courtship of Trump, would rather its erratic ally lean too far toward peace than risk plunging Northeast Asia into precisely the sort of devastating war that containing the Kim regime was meant to prevent, not precipitate. Meanwhile, South Korea will warn its ally not to jeopardize its own peninsular peace process, if it can point to progress there. As for China, the bizarrely persistent delusion in some Washington circles that Beijing can be barked at to implement U.S. foreign policy may finally perish amid an escalating trade war, which will hardly incline Xi to be helpful.
Kim’s Long, Strong Game
What then, is Pyongyang’s game? As a former U.S. president might say, we have misunderestimated Kim Jong Un. A tighter sanctions noose and fear of attack by Trump may have been factors pushing him toward diplomacy; South Korea’s central bank reckons the Northern economy shrank by 3.5 percent in 2017. Yet Kim’s demeanor is hardly that of a supplicant. It makes more sense to see him as pursuing his own carefully sequenced strategy. In that light, this year’s seeming U-turn is really a new stage, building on rather than negating the recent past.
We need to revise our categories. Far from a hermit after years of schooling in Switzerland, Kim had good reason to stay home for his first six years in power. His first task was to secure his own fragile position: Reining in the Korean People’s Army (KPA), which his father had favored; restoring the top organs and overall control of the Workers’ Party (WPK), which Kim Jong Il had allowed to atrophy; and disposing of rivals like Jang Song Thaek. All of that took time.
Having dealt with the home front, Kim turned to securing his external flank. One might think that having the bomb was already defense enough. But missiles were a weak link. Kim felt he needed the full works, up to and including the ability to strike the continental United States, to create a situation of mutually assured deterrence. Hence, his upping the pace of weapons testing in 2016, and especially 2017. Although illegal and reckless this was arguably understandable, with the likes of John Bolton still (amazingly) offering Libya as a model. Additional motives for the 2016-2017 big nuclear push were to further boost Kim’s personal kudos at home, and have more assets to trade – or at least dangle – when the time came for bargaining in earnest.
We are now in that third phase. Note that Kim Jong Un is the subject of all these sentences. It is he who has taken the key decisions, including timing. He is very much in control: Forcing others to react to his actions, whether ICBM launches or olive branches. Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim has the knack for playing a nominally weak hand with great skill.
But what does he want? At one level it is too soon to be certain; we shall see. Meanwhile, the usual range of hypotheses proliferates. At one end of the spectrum, those mistrustful a priori of North Korea – who have history on their side – refuse to believe that this cunning leopard has changed his spots in the slightest. For (say) Nicholas Eberstadt, B. R. Myers, or Joshua Stanton, North Korea is still on a mission to defeat or control South Korea, as it always has been. No one should drop their guard or be taken in by Pyongyang’s peace offensives, an old ploy.
For symmetry, it would be neat to cite a counterview that, on the contrary, Kim Jong Un truly does want to come in from the cold: Making North Korea a normal state, a modern economy and responsible member of the community of nations. But doves have had their fingers burnt so often before that (unless I have missed it) such robust optimism is now in short supply.
The key debates, therefore, cluster between these extremes. The evidence remains limited and contested, despite Kim’s radical-seeming outreach. But thus far, his actions seem those of a leader confident he has secured his country’s status as a de facto nuclear power, and who on that basis has now switched to a diplomatic track. Yes, he pays lip service to denuclearization – but firmly rejecting any notion that this should be unilateral. The North Korean Foreign Ministry’s aggrieved comments after Pompeo’s recent visit are a case in point.
For all practical purposes, North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize is no different from that of any other nuclear state, including signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In theory all support nuclear disarmament as the goal, but none of their recent actions suggest any active intention to start putting this into practice.
What Kim Jong Un has sought this year, successfully so far, is to engage the United States in a dialogue and thereby neutralize its threat. Starting from his nuclear test freeze and the destruction of Punggye-ri – the former reversible at any time, the latter replaceable and unverified formally – Kim will concede the minimum necessary to keep this fragile new relationship on track. Going forward, much thus rides on his judgment of what and when to offer – and equally on Washington’s capacity for patience with a long drawn out process which is far from what Trump had demanded. (One can only wonder what John Bolton is thinking.)
Meanwhile Seoul is forging new links with Pyongyang, while Beijing is reviving old ones. The economic aspect of these new processes will soon hit a wall called sanctions. China may burrow under the wall or sneak around it, but South Korea cannot. This year or next, the UN Security Council will surely be asked to repeal or grant exemptions from at least some North Korea sanctions, even though Pyongyang will still be nowhere near full denuclearization.
For all interlocutors this will be a moment of truth. The truth is that, thanks to its own cunning and the missteps of others, North Korea is now a nuclear power. Everything that Kim is now doing rests on the new confidence this status affords him. Logically, therefore, he is hardly about to soon surrender assets so tenaciously and riskily acquired, his possession of which is now reaping such huge diplomatic dividends. Having watched how Israel, India, and Pakistan all eventually gained tacit acceptance of their nuclear status, North Korea wants no less. And for sure, to get that Pyongyang will talk about denuclearization, while tossing the odd bone as required.
No Good Options
This confronts the world with unenviable policy choices: Bad, worse, disastrous.
The (thankfully) sui generis nature of the North Korea knot clashes with Kantian universalism. In this writer’s judgment, despite the downside of extreme moral hazard and driving a coach and horses through international law – not to mention pour encourager les autres – no viable or safe alternative exists to accepting the new reality. Of course, with no more reason now to trust Pyongyang than there has ever been, deterrence will remain essential for the foreseeable future. This is already in place and has kept the peace on the peninsula for 65 years, which is why Trump setting a red line of the continental United States being within ICBM range made no sense. Both South Korea and Japan have lived in the shadow of North Korean missiles for years.
On April 21, Kim Jong Un declared that what had been his signature policy of Byungjin – both nuclear weapons and economic development in tandem – was over. With the former achieved, the latter is now North Korea’s top priority. Given the lack of policy alternatives, the world may have no option but to take him at his word. North Korea’s peculiar and desperate economy is a whole other story, beyond our scope here. Debates about it, however, parallel those on nuclear strategy: What is going on, how much has changed, and what does Kim really want?
Just as North Korea is a de facto nuclear power, it has also become a de facto market economy. Yet whereas Pyongyang boasts of the former, it still dare not speak the latter’s name: Reform remains a dirty word. The result is a peculiar hybrid. Mixed economies are not rare, but ones wholly unable to admit their actual nature will have problems. The new reality requires public proclamation and ideological legitimation, so North Korea’s capitalists can feel and be safe. Pyongyang has yet to echo Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that “to get rich is glorious,” or espouse his pragmatism regarding the color of cats. (Deng famously once said “I don't care if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice,” echoing a preference for practical results rather than ideology). Official North Korean economic discourse remains old-school. Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong Un tours factories and tears strips off their functionaries – as if the system itself were just fine, and the only problems are slackers or incompetence. One hopes he privately knows better, or is willing to learn – fast.
Despite all those cautions and their corollaries – not least, would putting new money into the North Korean system as is, if and when easing of sanctions allows this, actually achieve anything? – there seems no realistic alternative to going with the grain of Kim’s professed, and probably sincere, wish to prioritize economic development. That is certainly how China and Moon Jae-in see things. South Korean conservatives sharply disagree, but Park Geun-hye’s debacle has left them in disarray, and their recent decade in power hardly achieved any success with North Korea.
This is a strange historical moment, with a volatile U.S. president and many outcomes possible. Having stared into the abyss last year, few want to relive 2017. Evaluating the recent past, it is hard to deny that the “maximum pressure” approach – which began in 2016 under Obama and Park; Trump just inherited it and cranked it up – failed to alter or deter North Korea, though some will insist this was because the sanction noose was never really tightened quite enough.
With the change of mood that Kim has cleverly engineered, a new consensus may emerge: That pushing the Kim regime into a corner did not work and is risky, so it is time to try something different. Provided Kim keeps making nice and does not revert to noxious nuclear tests, a weary world facing many other problems may well give peace a chance.
The High Price of Peace
It is crucial to recognize that this comes at a price. Not only has Kim offered nothing concrete yet on the nuclear front, but the other major non-nuclear concerns are bound to be sidelined. Human rights will go on the back burner once more. If those are an internal affair, that cannot be said of North Korea’s record as a rogue regime. The murder of Kim Jong Nam should set alarm bells ringing on two fronts: For the criminal insouciance displayed, and as a reminder that North Korea’s chemical and biological assets (which may have aided Assad in Syria) remain unaddressed.
Then there is the cyber realm: Manna to a rogue regime with a long track record of state crime. Why risk shipping heroin into Australia to earn a crust (remember the Pong Su), when a few clicks on a laptop in Shenyang is all it takes to rob a bank? Experts concur in tracing several recent cyber heists to North Korean operatives. Not forgetting Sony Pictures, and the less publicized but continuous cyberattacks experienced by both public and private entities in South Korea.
On July 5, the semiofficial South Korean news agency Yonhap carried a report with the depressingly paradoxical headline: “N. Korean hackers suspected of continuing attacks amid friendly inter-Korean relations.” Worse, not only is it business as usual for the North’s cyber warriors, but their Southern targets are keeping quiet for political reasons. Yonhap quotes a glum unnamed industry expert: “Cyber space [seems] excluded from the [Panmunjom] agreement on ending hostile acts.” And yet, “local cyber security firms… are refraining from openly announcing attacks from North Korea considering Seoul's latest push for peaceful reconciliation.”
As the French would say, c’est insupportable. If true, this is intolerable and the new peace process risks becoming a sham. This hardly bodes well for the key issue of Kim’s sincerity. A regime genuinely committed to turning over a new leaf would simply cease all such nefarious activities. But that is not Pyongyang’s way. Of course none of this is admitted, but in due course it may go on the table and be tradable – if the price is right. As with nukes, so with cybercrime, this tough and profoundly cynical regime will demand to be paid to stop.
We are in for the long haul with North Korea, as we always have been and always will be. To imagine there could ever be a short cut was a foolish delusion. Inheriting the family business, Kim Jong Un is proving himself a master in adapting the old Pyongyang game to new times and fresh interlocutors. True, with a bleeding-heart liberal in the Blue House and an ignorant narcissist in the White House, the planets could hardly be better aligned for Kim. Kim saw his chance, seized it, and is exploiting it with skill and gusto. That leaves the world with little option but to try to steer him into paths of righteousness and hope for the best, while keeping its powder very dry.