By: Brittany Greve
With the 2018 Olympic Winter Games currently being held in PyeongChang, South Korea, there have been millions of eyes on the country and the actions they take. According to Reuters, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, personally invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit North Korea and meet with Kim Jong Un. This was the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than 10 years and, some have said, the first sign of warming relations between the two countries.
Though many see this as an opportunity to have a healthy dialogue between the Koreas, the United States has not reacted well to the news. Many government officials believe that this is a direct action that North Korea is taking to create issues between South Korea and the United States. Kim Sung-Han, the former South Korean Vice Foreign Minister, said that this invitation to North Korea “is the strongest action yet by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the United States.” But in an attempt to ease the friction, President Moon asked the North Korean delegation to actively seek dialogue with the United States, saying that “an early resumption of dialogue is absolutely necessary for developments in the inter-Korean relations as well.”
The hostility from the United States has been portrayed by Vice President Mike Pence, who has used increasingly hostile language against the North while attending the Olympics in PyeongChang. According to the New York Times, Pence has been wary of North Korea’s participation in the Games and believes it is an attempt to create a division between the United States and South Korea. A sign of that division, and what some fear is a sign of larger political ambition of North Korea, is how North and South Korea marched under one flag at the opening ceremony. During the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, Pence and Kim sat only a few feet away from each other but apparently a conversation did not occur between the two. Pence and his wife did not stand, like most other onlookers, when the athletes from both Koreas marched together.
The issues with nuclear weapons and missile tests have both North Korea and the United States weary to commit to a meeting. North Korea has made it clear that their nuclear weapons are not a bargaining chip to be used as a political move. On the contrary, during the speech Kim gave on New Year’s Day, he vowed to begin to “mass-produce” nuclear weapons and missiles.
According to the New York Times, if President Moon accepts Kim’s offer, it will be the third summit meeting between the two Koreas; however, it would be Kim’s first meeting with a foreign head of state. President Moon has said he is not interested in “talks for talks’ sake” and is looking to discuss how to build peace between the two countries if the meeting were to occur. Janique Goberdhan (‘18) is skeptical about North Korea’s intentions, saying, “You don’t know if they are serious and want to fix things or if there is an underlying motive.”
Though there is some debate about whether or not President Moon should attend, Cheong Seong-chang, a Senior Analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, said, “It will not be wise for President Moon to reject dialogue with the North and do nothing but stick to sanctions for the sake of the alliance with the United States.” He feels that ultimately South Korea will be the one to suffer the most if any hostility begins between North Korea and the United States. Regardless, Trevor Hurst (‘19) doesn’t “think it [the meeting] will do much to solve the long-term structural issues” between North and South Korea.
The day after Moon met with North Korea’s high-ranking delegation, the White House said it was in close contact with South Korea to ensure a consistent response. The only word from the Defense Department was that it is working on a statement; certain people are looking at this as more of an opportunity than a challenge. Victoria Andrews (‘20) says, “South and North Korea meeting is very interesting democratically, because it means that times are changing and [North Korea is] willing to work with other nations.”