Can inter-Korean détente last after Olympics?

Global Times
Li Jiayao

The Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games begins on Friday. Delegations from North and South Korea will march under a unified flag at the opening ceremony, showcasing a new easing of tensions on the peninsula. US Vice President Mike Pence, North Korean top legislator Kim Yong-nam and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be present at the event simultaneously in an inconceivably harmonious scene.

Many anticipate a decisive turning point for the peninsula situation. Others assert such hopes are unrealistic dreams and after the Games, the peninsula will revert to intense confrontation.

But it's a real moment. All parties involved should seize it. Any other approach would let down all the people on the peninsula and betray the best hopes for peace.

February 8 marks North Korea's Army-Building Day. The annual parade was reportedly smaller and took a shorter time. This has been seen as Pyongyang coordinating its posture for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

Apparently, Pyongyang is adjusting strategy and Seoul has picked up on the signal. While the Games is currently a priority for South Korea, the country must be enjoying the calm and would miss it should it be lost. The maintenance of reduced tensions and the crafting of a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis are more appealing than antagonism.

The US is key to the issue. So far Washington hasn't shifted one iota from its determination to push Pyongyang to the limit. For Americans, South-North interactions at the Games are meaningless to addressing the nuclear crisis. Washington will want to revert to confrontation after the Games.

Washington seems as obstinate in its Pyongyang policy as Pyongyang is about its nuclear ambitions. If that's the case, then this year's Games will be the last moment of stability on the peninsula.

South Korea has cards to play. For example, Seoul can demand fewer joint military exercises with Washington. This might offend the US, but it will also lower the risk of confrontation. Seoul should be clear about what goal it really wants.

South Korea is supposed to be a major player, but Seoul has been almost marginalized. It is not in the country's best interests that it chooses to be led by the US. By so doing, the country is giving up on its responsibility to the entire peninsula.

When no side seems willing to blink, it falls upon South Korea to act to change the status quo. If Pyongyang wants to ease tensions, Seoul can encourage Washington to refrain from radical action. If Seoul is unwilling to take this bold move, then in the meantime it needs to prepare for a deteriorating situation on the peninsula.

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