Why It Matters

Korea talks may set the tone for future dialogue

The two Koreas are set to hold high-level talks tomorrow for the first time in two years in a positive step that could set the tone for future dialogue to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal and ease tensions.

The talks will most likely focus on North Korea's participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics hosted by the South, and deal with issues such as whether to form a joint Korea team or cheering squad.

North Korea's International Olympic Committee representative said last Saturday that the regime was "likely to participate" in the games, after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extended a New Year's Day overture and ordered inter-Korea communication to be restored to discuss the sending of a delegation.

Experts and the media have urged both Koreas to make sincere efforts during the talks so the goodwill could help create an atmosphere conducive for broader talks aimed at disarming the North, which last fired its most powerful missile on Nov 29.

Dr Bong Young Shik of Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies warned the pro-rapprochement South Korean government against "giving too much for too little from Pyongyang". While the agreement to postpone US-South Korea joint military drills until after the games is an "acceptable price", caving in to demands to restart the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex or resume Mount Kumgang tours would go against global efforts to tighten economic sanctions on the regime, Dr Bong said.

 

Tours to the North's scenic Mount Kumgang have been halted since a South Korean female tourist who allegedly ventured into an off-limit area was shot dead in 2008 by a North Korean solider.

"The successful and peaceful hosting of the Winter Olympic Games is a good thing but it doesn't mean a big breakthrough on the front of denuclearisation of North Korea," Dr Bong said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2018, with the headline 'Korea talks may set the tone'. Print Edition | Subscribe