Seoul, South Korea – Although there is no indication that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons in the short term, South Korea is literally jumping this week with peace efforts with its rival, which threatened war just a few months ago.
Two days of the friendly basketball games that ended on Thursday in Pyongyang were the last in a series of goodwill gestures among the Koreas in recent months. The women's and men's matches came just before the arrival of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea on Friday during two days of talks about the future of the North's nuclear program.
A crowd of 12,000 applauded as the teams wore white shirts that read "Peace" and green jerseys that say "Prosperity" – marched to the court holding hands. The players from North and South mixed in teams for the games on Wednesday.
South Koreans play against North Korean teams on Thursday before returning home on Friday.
It remains to be seen how much more their conciliatory footsteps can rival the rival Koreas. . The fate of these efforts is linked to progress in the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. If the nuclear talks get stuck, it could mean curtains for inter-Korean detente.
"Goodwill gestures between the Koreas can be likened to swinging back and forth in a rocking chair: it feels good, but it's not really moving forward," said Bong Young-shik, an expert from Korea North at the Yonsei University in Seoul. "These gestures alone do not ensure progress in the denuclearization of the North and the stabilization of peace."
Basketball diplomacy follows agreements to send combined teams to the Asian Games in August and hold temporary reunions of relatives now separated by 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korean workers began traveling this week to the North Korean border town of Kaesong to repair a building in a closed factory park where rivals plan to establish a liaison office.
Your military is in the process of restoring lines of communication that could calm crises on its tense border. In the longer term, the Koreas have promised to improve the aging of the railways and roads of the North.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held highly publicized summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April and May, described the peace efforts so crucial because Kim will not abandon his nuclear weapons unless he feels his security is assured .
South Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said last week that Seoul will try to facilitate civil-level exchanges in the coming months and promote exchanges between the South Korean and North Korean media.
downplayed concerns that improved relations will be accompanied by the easing of sanctions and pressure on North Korea, saying that progress on inter-Korean projects will depend on whether the right conditions are created.
Recognizing the existing sanctions, Seoul abstained from offering joint economic projects, which Pyongyang most desires, and built its commitment to sports, culture and humanity. nitarian programs. However, even these programs could lose momentum if Pyongyang does not show a genuine interest in denuclearization soon, according to experts.
South Korea will try to stay on the sidelines with the United States if diplomacy reaches a difficult point. The North Korean government, which is constantly worried about raising the North Koreans' awareness of the outside world, could curb gestures of good will and exchanges if it decides that the economic and security benefits will not come soon, Bong said.
Any significant reward from South Korea and the United States will depend on whether North Korea is willing to give up nuclear weapons that it can see as its strongest guarantee of survival.
With last month's summit between Kim and President Donald Trump resulting in only a vague statement about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, it is now up to Pompeo to analyze the details in the follow-up talks with the North Korean officials.
Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said Trump's window to lock up North Korea in a genuine denuclearization process could be closed as early as November if his Republican Party loses the congressional elections , reducing the political influence of the administration. It is crucial that Pompeo leaves Pyongyang with something substantial, he said.
"It would be difficult for Pompeo to draw a timetable for North Korea this week, but at least it needs to announce a rough work plan for denuclearization," Choi said.
For Moon, a return to 2017, when nuclear and missile tests from the North and Trump's bombastic twitts increased animosity on the Korean Peninsula to new heights, it would be very difficult to swallow.
Moon, the are from the war refugees of North Korea, has pledged to take advantage of the legacy of former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Under his "Sunshine Policy", Seoul's economic incentives resulted in a temporary rapprochement and summits in 2000 and 2007 with the then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim Dae-jung's commitment to North Korea was often a source of discord with the US administration of former President George W. Bush, and disagreements between Washington and Seoul continued during the Roh government.
Moon is also a liberal, but unlike his predecessors, he is not. "The commitment is likely to continue if it widens a gap with Washington," Choi said.
The president of South Korea has worked to maintain a coordinated approach with Trump in North Korea. He has remained firm in the sanctions and has offered vocal support to Trump's lobbying campaign last year, which he now credits for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table.
"Moon is different from Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun," Choi said. "He knows that real progress in inter-Korean relations can only be achieved through denuclearization."
Follow Kim Tong-hyung on Twitter at @KimTongHyung
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