A welcome warming between the Koreas

After an especially chilly period, North and South Korea are talking to each other again. That alone doesn't solve any big issues. But it’s a start. 

Korea Summit Press Pool via AP/FILE
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo at the border village of Panmunjom in 2018. Moon and Kim agreed July 27 to restore suspended communication channels between their countries.

Steps in the right direction, even if small, need to be noted – especially when the stakes involved are high.

This week, North and South Korea announced they would resume communication with each other after more than a year of silence. “The whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the official North Korean news agency said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and an unnamed senior U.S. official quickly nodded their approval.

Some 13 months ago, in a display of displeasure, the North blew up a joint liaison office (unoccupied at the time) that had been constructed in its territory for the purpose of better communication with the South. It was seen as a dramatic signal of a new era of chilly relations with its southern neighbor.

That move followed a showy 2019 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump. The United States sought to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear missile program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions on it. But no agreement emerged.

Mr. Kim’s aim still seems to be to use the threat of building a stockpile of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland as a way to win concessions, but without giving up the nuclear arsenal.

In itself the fresh move to reopen communication with South Korea, a longtime U.S. ally, doesn’t get at the nuclear standoff. But it’s a welcome start.

Changing times may be forcing Mr. Kim into new approaches. The threat from the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect of economic sanctions may be taking a toll.

North Korea does not admit to having any cases of COVID-19, and no signs of starvation or social unrest have been observed as a result of the sanctions.

But after making a splash with a large delegation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Mr. Kim has kept his athletes home from the Tokyo Games now underway. His concerns over the possibility of spreading the pandemic in his country, which maintains tight controls on its borders, may have outweighed the opportunity for any propaganda victories from attending these Games.

In January Mr. Kim displayed some uncharacteristic contrition, acknowledging the economic challenges his country faces and saying that he had learned “painful lessons.” He may have decided that warming relations with South Korean President Moon Jae-in now represents the best path to influencing the U.S.

“Our patience will achieve more than our force,” Edmund Burke, the 18th-century statesman and member of the British Parliament, once observed. More favorable conditions for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and a lessening of nuclear tensions, may be emerging. Those who long to see t​hose results must remain open to each opportunity that offers progress.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.