The pitfalls of economic cooperation without denuclearization

Editor’s Note: Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom when he chose to defect with his family to South Korea in 2016. Following the recent release of his book, “Cypher of the Third-Floor Secretariat,” and his departure from the Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS), he has committed himself to improving the outlook for those still living in the DPRK. His current efforts focus on information sharing and the power of education to effect change.

As one of the highest-ranking diplomats to ever defect, Thae has teamed up with Daily NK and its broader media consortium, Unification Media Group, for a weekly series to share his unparalleled insight into the North Korean system, ethos, and strategic thinking, while unpacking his vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

At this moment, the third inter-Korean summit is undergoing in Pyongyang.

The South Koreans, watching the people of Pyongyang cheerfully welcome President Moon, are also overcome with nerves of joy.

On the 19th or 20th, it is expected that the Agreement of the third inter-Korean summit will be announced.

Now the whole world is focusing on whether this summit will make a breakthrough at current stalemate of North Korea’s denuclearization.

However, right now there is a disagreement within South Korea on how to evaluate the results of the summit.

Some claim that every time an inter-Korean Summit ends, the South Korean government proclaims that North Korea’s “willingness to denuclearize is clear,” without clarifying how it is “clear.”

They go further to say that specific commitments of denuclearization such as reporting and verification methods must be made this time round.

On the other hand, some claim that making denuclearization of North Korea as the only task for peace on the Korean peninsula is wrong and it is unreasonable at this moment in time to demand that North Korea report its nuclear facilities.

They state that the disarmament settlement to alleviate tensions along the border region between the North and South should precede anything else, so that North Korea can feel safe to continue with denuclearization.

In the face of these contradictory claims, the South Korean people are unable to make heads or tails of who is right.

Meanwhile, on September 14, the United States stated that it would continue to thoroughly enforce sanctions until the denuclearization of North Korea is achieved, and announced that denuclearization is a priority over the disarmament between North and South Korea.

Similarly, on September 12, a seminar on policy towards North Korea was held at the British Parliament.

Many British parliamentarians stated that it is likely that North Korea will hide its nuclear weapons and insist that it had denuclearized and that it is becoming increasingly possible that President Trump will accept this type of denuclearization.

Thus, British parliamentarians predicted that if the South Korean government continues to promote this type of “denuclearization of North Korea” to be “denuclearization”, then with China not taking it on as a problem, it will only be a few years until North Korea eventually becomes a nuclear power.

But the South Korean people are anxious to witness a clear alternative to denuclearization be made at the third inter-Korean summit.

This summit should be used as an opportunity to tell Kim Jong Un honestly that it is not possible to kill two birds with one stone, like keeping nuclear weapons while making economic prosperity.

This honesty will not only be good for South Korea but also helpful for Kim Jong Un.

At the moment, Kim Jong Un thinks that as long as he plays well with China and South Korea, he then will be able to lift the sanctions without dismantling the nuclear weapons.

He believes that North Korea’s economy will be revived, only with exchanges and cooperation with South Korea and China.

Recently North Korea has been warning that it cannot give up its “shield” of nuclear weapons if the US does not enact the end-of-war declaration and has turned to South Korea with the slogan of “by ourselves”.

In other words, North Korea is using asymmetric tactics to solve the stalled US-North Korea negotiations by moving forward with inter-Korean relations.

Currently North Korea is promoting the propaganda among its people that the fact of many government delegations’ attendance to North Korea’s National Day of on September 9 including China and Russia proves that North Korea’s international prestige was even more strengthened after the completion of its nuclear development.

If the summit puts forth the disarmament of North and South Korea before looking for the solution for denuclearization, as well as promising economic cooperation without the promise of the specifics of denuclearization, then it will only prove the validity of North Korea’s nuclear strategy that the possession of nuclear weapons enhances its status.

If this happens, it will only deepen the international community’s suspicions about South Korea and the opportunity to denuclearize North Korea by peaceful means will disappear forever.

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