Pundits weigh in on what Kim means by 'new path'

SEOUL • In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned he might take a "new path" if Washington maintains sanctions amid his country's push for economic development, but experts say it may be too late to change the trajectory of negotiations. Here are the implications of such a move:


Pyongyang has demanded that Washington lift sanctions and declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War in response to the dismantlement of its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility. Despite goodwill responses from Washington, such as a halt of some major military exercises with South Korea, US officials have said North Korea's initial steps were not confirmed and could be easily reversed.

"His (Mr Kim's) message was 'we have done what we said we would at Singapore, but the United States has done very little in return'," said Dr Vipin Narang, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


The "new path" may refer to focusing on concessions that do not involve broad denuclearisation in favour of action-for-action commitments.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said yesterday it could not speculate on what the alternative path might be, but Mr Kim showed his "clear resolve" to abandon the weapons programme and improve US ties by mentioning "complete denuclearisation" himself for the first time.


Dr Kim Joon-hyung, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said one possible scenario was the North's dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, as offered at an inter-Korean summit in September in Pyongyang, and acknowledging some facilities in return for eased sanctions, such as a partial restart of inter-Korean economic projects. Mr Kim said in the speech that he was willing to reopen the Kaesong factory park and allow access to the North's Mount Kumgang resort "without conditions".

Yet there remains an opportunity to limit Mr Kim's arsenal, Dr Narang said. "The United States should find out what the price for a cap on North Korea's nuclear programme would be, as it would be an important and realistic objective," he said.


The New Year address called for a launch of multilateral talks to officially declare an end to the Korean War, an idea also floated previously by South Korea.

That could mean working with China, South Korea and others in pressing Washington, Dr Kim said. But other experts, including former South Korean nuclear envoy Lee Soo-hyuk, were sceptical that would happen given the deadlocked bilateral talks, the Sino-US trade war and Mr Trump's dislike for multinational mechanisms.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Pundits weigh in on what Kim means by 'new path''. Print Edition | Subscribe