South Korea wants to get closer to the North

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South Korea wants to get closer to the North

Leader of the DPRK Kim Jong-un

Seoul prepares for a new reboot with Pyongyang

South Korea has taken a decisive step towards normalizing relations with Pyongyang: the country's parliament has introduced criminal liability for sending leaflets criticizing the DPRK and its leader Kim Jong-un to the North. After that, South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the presidential election, expressing the hope that the alliance with the United States “will play a key role in ensuring peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.” Despite the harsh rhetoric against Pyongyang sounded during Joe Biden's election campaign, Seoul is expecting a restart of relations with the DPRK after the Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea scheduled for January and the change of the US administration.

Congratulating US President-elect Joe Biden on his victory in the elections on November 3, the South Korean president became the last of the American allies to formally express his attitude to the upcoming change of power in the White House.

It is highly symbolic that messages from Moscow and Seoul arrived in Washington on the same day. As the representative of the administration of the South Korean leader Kang Min Suk explained, congratulations to Joe Biden were sent immediately after the voting results were approved by the US electoral college.

Despite the appearance of a pause in contacts between the current president of South Korea and the president-elect of the United States, Seoul is already actively preparing for a change of power in Washington, counting on a restart of relations with North Korea, which was not achieved during the Trump administration.

During a video conference by the Aspen Institute last week, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa called on the Biden administration to show flexibility and political will to get the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free status moving forward. Ms Kang expressed hope for the lifting of the US sanctions regime against North Korea, which was retained by outgoing President Trump, despite vigorous opposition from Seoul.

For its part, South Korea is in a hurry to clear the ground by January for normalizing relations with Pyongyang. On Monday, the country's parliament approved a bill banning the sending of propaganda materials to North Korea criticizing its political system and Kim Jong-un personally.

The new law, dubbed anti-leaflet, introduces harsh penalties for campaigning against the North Korean regime – from fines of $ 30,000 to three years in prison.

The bill was passed with a rare unanimity of the deputies: 187 votes in favor and none against. Thus, the influential South Korean opposition, which earlier sharply criticized President Moon Jae-in for not taking a tough stance towards the “North Korean dictator”, this time supported the ruling party.

Recall that after the “historic meeting” of the leaders of the South and the North held in April 2018 in the demilitarized zone in Panmunjom, the Declaration on Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula was signed.

However, then the process of the Korean settlement began to stall, and in June of this year it was completely thwarted by the efforts of a number of South Korean non-governmental organizations created by defectors from the North. NGOs not under the control of the authorities began to throw anti-government leaflets into the DPRK.

As a means of delivery, balloons launched towards the northerners were used.

Although the propaganda attack from the South ran counter to the official course of Seoul, the South Korean authorities could not stop it. Formally, NGOs acted in the legal field: at that time in South Korea there was no law prohibiting such actions. All the calls of the Ministry for the Unification of the Two Koreas to stop launching balloons were ignored by civil activists who are intransigent towards the North Korean regime.

As a result, the DPRK laid all the responsibility on the official Seoul: at an emergency meeting of the ruling Labor Party of Korea, it was decided to abandon further work with the South and start “fighting the enemy.”

Meanwhile, six months later, having demonstrated their determination at the legislative level to suppress the activities of conservative forces and non-governmental organizations that set the tone in the ideological confrontation with Pyongyang, Seoul sent a clear signal to the DPRK: this irritant no longer exists. There is no need to fear a new launch of propaganda balls from the South, which, according to some estimates, could have been timed to coincide with President Biden's inauguration scheduled for January 20.

The official reaction of Seoul to the winter military exercises that began in North Korea this week was also very restrained.

As the representative of the South Korean command Kim Yun Nak said, “these are regular exercises, the course of which is closely monitored by the intelligence agencies of South Korea and the United States, and there are no signs of provocative actions by Pyongyang.”

Seoul hopes that these efforts will bear fruit early next year, when not only the inauguration of Joe Biden will take place, but also the eighth congress of the Workers' Party of Korea (the exact date of its holding in January has not yet been announced).

“I am confident that North Korea has analyzed our intentions, and I believe that contact may be after January. Since the US presidential elections are over, the situation may move towards warming, “- said the Minister of National Reunification of South Korea Lee In Young.

South Korean media, referring to the intelligence obtained by Seoul, report that on the eve of the party congress in Pyongyang and the inauguration of Joe Biden, the North Korean leadership ordered its diplomatic missions abroad not to provoke the United States and threatened to strictly excuse diplomats if they show excessive zeal in criticizing Washington.

Meanwhile, Washington considers the Korean crisis to be one of the main foreign policy challenges of the new US administration, which will require it to choose a new strategy on the Korean Peninsula soon after starting work in the White House.

The main intrigue is whether Joe Biden will take the path of increasing tough pressure on Pyongyang, or Washington will develop a new model for a more flexible carrot-and-stick relationship.

During the election campaign, Joe Biden repeatedly made sharp attacks on North Korea, in particular, saying that “the days of flirting with dictators are over.”

However, shortly before the presidential elections, he nevertheless admitted the possibility of his meeting with Kim Jong-un “on the condition that he renounces his nuclear potential, which will make the Korean Peninsula a nuclear-free zone.”

Sergey Strokan

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