North Korea halts nuclear program in preparation for economic gains

By Jin Qiangyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/25 19:28:41

Seoul and Pyongyang are in the final stages of preparations for a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un. Apart from switching off its propaganda broadcasts to the North, the Blue House in Seoul is reviewing ways to turn the armistice on the peninsula into a formal peace agreement with Pyongyang. Whether the meeting, scheduled in the village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, would bring about denuclearization and peace on the peninsula has triggered heated discussions among observers.

The Workers' Party of North Korea announced at the third plenary meeting of the seventh central committee last week that it would "discontinue nuclear and inter-continental ballistic rocket tests starting April 21, 2018" and dismantle "its northern nuclear test site to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of nuclear tests." This declaration is undoubtedly major progress toward denuclearization, but still, suspending nuclear tests cannot be equated with denuclearization. Without clarifying its commitment to denuclearization at last week's meeting, Pyongyang may be using the delaying tactic.

The country may not be willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but meanwhile has no intention to escalate tensions on the peninsula. As a result, it only decided to stop nuclear tests and shut down test sites, and made no mention of denuclearization.

Alternatively, North Korea may have deliberately toned down its commitment to denuclearization after taking domestic public opinion into account. After all, Pyongyang last year was boasting about the advantages of being a nuclear state, and a sudden decision to give up developing nuclear weapons may not be easily accepted by its public. It's still too early to speculate on North Korea's real intentions and the outcomes of the upcoming Moon-Kim summit.

Whether Pyongyang would completely give up its nuclear ambition is the key to the peninsula situation, in which Kim's meeting with his US counterpart Donald Trump plays a more important role than his with Moon. Trump said earlier that he will not offer North Korea substantial sanctions relief before the country has completely dismantled its nuclear programs. This means a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But Pyongyang is likely to attach conditions in exchange for denuclearization. If no consensus can be reached on these conditions, Kim's negotiations with Moon and Trump may end in failure.

Kim may make some economic requests to Trump. North Korea may even demand establishing diplomatic ties with the US so as to pave the way for it to join international financial organizations. That is why Trump said earlier that his summit with Kim could either fail or lead to the "greatest deal for the world."

If the summit is successful, North Korea is highly likely to focus its attention on economic development. The country carried out intensive nuclear and missile tests last year and many observers believe that Kim is eager to divert his attention to the economy after accomplishing his nuclear programs. Although North Korea announced that "the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets has been reliably realized," analysts believe the country has a long way to go before becoming a nuclear state. Tough sanctions, especially from China, have pressured North Korea. In addition, by warning "all options are on the table," Trump's threats of war may have touched a nerve in Kim. As a result, North Korea decided to halt nuclear and missile tests. Although its nuclear ambition hasn't yet been realized, North Korea will still put more efforts into economic development, the only way to lead the country to prosperity.

The author is director of the institute of international politics, North Korea-South Korea Research Center, Yanbian University.

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