A thaw between North and South Korea?

Representatives from Seoul and Pyongyang met for the first time in two years on Tuesday. South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has also announced that he is willing to conduct direct talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un. Commentators warn against further concessions and analyse the reasons for the détente.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Premature decision by Seoul

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's decision to meet North Korea halfway is rash, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“The fact that South Korea has turned a blind eye [to Pyongyang's nuclear programme] and was downright gung-ho in clasping Kim's outstretched hand is understandable for a neighbouring state with a heavily-guarded border - and after more than two years of silence. At the same time, however, Moon Jae-in has taken on a huge responsibility with his move. As an advisor to former president Kim Dae-jung he experienced first-hand how North Korea repeatedly hoodwinked its negotiating parters, from Washington to Seoul. Talks are better than no talks, yes. But there have already been too many hasty concessions as far as North Korea is concerned.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Kim's hand forced by a lack of funds

The rapprochement between North and South Korea has nothing to do with rekindled friendship, De Telegraaf comments:

“Everything points to North Korea simply needing money. The economic sanctions have weakened the country to such an extent that Pyongyang had no choice but to ask for help. And it's easier to ask the older brothers in South Korea for help than it is to ask the Yankees in America. Seoul seems ready to provide (financial) aid in the hope that this will finally lead to a real improvement in relations between the two countries. It's also a good way to try to sideline the US in the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.”

Unian (UA) /

China wants to reduce tensions with the US

Vitaly Kulyk, director of Kiev's Centre for Civil Society, describes for news agency Unian the role China could have played in recent developments :

“It must be borne in mind that North Korea is not an independent global player. Clearly Beijing's influence on Pyongyang has made an impact in the present case. Beijing wants to reduce tensions and improve its relations with Japan, South Korea and the US. Beijing and Washington have entered a new round of their trade war whose consequences China wants to limit by making certain concessions. One of these could be the talks between Seoul and Pyongyang.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Tyrant will be back soon

The participation of North Korean athletes in the Winter Olympics in South Korea is a welcome development but shouldn't lull us into a false sense of security vis-à-vis the Pyongyang regime, Hospodářské noviny warns:

“Sport can be used as an instrument, even as an alternative to diplomacy. Both countries have plenty of experience here, albeit not only positive ones. When South Korea refused to allow North Korea to co-host the Seoul games the latter downed a South Korean airplane with a bomb, sending 115 people to their death. ... Kim Jong-un's main concern is to use his unpredictability to maintain his grip on power. We should applaud the athletes, but we can be sure the tyrant will be back soon.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

A chance for diplomacy

South Korean President Moon's offer to start a dialogue with the North Korean leadership could make his country an active player once more, writes Handelsblatt:

“In Korea and Japan the strategists are already worried that Trump could strike a deal with China above the allies' heads. For this reason in particular Moon's balancing act deserves praise for breaking the silence that has lasted for more than two years between the neighbours despite the policy of deterrence. Because with this gesture he has taken a logical step: he is trying to turn his country from a pawn into a player in the geopolitical game of chess. While war is not in South Korea's interests, giving diplomacy a chance certainly is.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Bad news for nuclear disarmament

The government in Seoul has gone very far with its offer of dialogue, Le Figaro believes:

“Seoul is so keen on resuming dialogue with the North (which was broken off in May 2016) that it's even ready to postpone its next military manoeuvre with its American allies. In view of the South Koreans' attitude one can hardly imagine that the US president could order any kind of preventive war against North Korea in a bid to strip it of its newly acquired status of nuclear power. So the contest of wills between Pyongyang and Washington has been won by North Korea. Bad news for nuclear disarmament.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Kim driving wedge between South Korea and US

Things are working out for North Korea, Il Sole 24 Ore concurs:

“The willingness for dialogue that Pyongyang signalled to South Korea is a blatant attempt by the North Korean government to drive a wedge between Seoul and the United States. ... But a number of observers have pointed out that it doesn't cost Kim anything to announce that North Korea will participate in the Olympic Games. A clever move with which he hopes to gain advantages without giving up anything in exchange. For example that the South Korean and US forces will postpone their joint military exercise. Kim's gesture is a pseudo-admission; he himself is not contributing anything but - as so often in the past - simply taking advantage of the potential rift between his neighbours.”