North Korea

Don’t fall for Kim Jong-un’s ‘trap’ by offering concessions with nothing in return, former South Korea foreign minister warns

Yun Byung-se says without meaningful action to freeze nuclear programme North Korea’s recent comments could be a tactic to buy his regime more time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 March, 2018, 8:30pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 2:29pm

The international community should not fall into a familiar North Korean trap of making concessions without getting anything in return, a former South Korean foreign minister has warned. 

Yun Byung-se said Kim Jong-un’s recent comments on his visit to China, including support for a denuclearised Korean peninsula, could be a tactic to buy his despotic regime more time ahead of his planned summits with his counterparts in Seoul and Washington in the coming weeks. 

Kim has not committed to freezing his nuclear weapons programme, but has indicated his willingness to touch on the subject of denuclearisation in the upcoming meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month and US President Donald Trump by May. 

However, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review, North Korea has begun testing an experimental light water reactor and may bring another reactor online at its Yongbyon Nuclear Research Centre.

Kim Jong-un’s lack of diplomatic experience ‘may have prompted China visit’ to help prepare for Trump summit

“This is a trap. Instead of wishful thinking, we should tread very cautiously. At least we should seek some kind of pledges from Kim Jong-un about his intention to translate his rhetoric into actions,” Yun said.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last month that there would be “no meaningful dialogue” unless North Korea agreed on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”.

However, Yun said Kim apparently had a different definition of denuclearisation – which includes the removal of US nuclear weapons and troops from the peninsula – and “there are many preconditions before North Korea actually starts its own measures to denuclearise”.

When Trump agreed to accept Kim’s summit proposal earlier this month, the US leader may not have understood the complexity involved in the definition of denuclearisation, according to Yun, who served under the conservative administration led by Park Guen-hye.

“How can you accept the offer when you know all those preconditions, which include the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea? It is unthinkable,” he said.

“We have had quite a few failures in the past. If we fail again, many people will start to talk about the worst scenario,” which include a dangerous military stand-off and possible conflicts, said the former diplomat.

Yun, who has been dealing with North Korea’s nuclear armament programme for more than a decade, cautioned that the world should pay special attention to North Korea’s covert uranium-enrichment programme, which could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction.

“When we talk about North Korea’s nuclear weapons, we should cover all range of nuclear weapons. If they really intend to freeze the nuclear programme, they have to freeze both plutonium and uranium-based weapons,” he said.

Did Kim ’s China visit herald the return of the Beijing-Pyongyang alliance?

In his new year’s message this year, Kim said from now on the nation would mass-produce its own nuclear weapons and speed up their deployment.

“This is very meaningful. It is worrisome that the nuclear arsenal in North Korea is increasing very rapidly,” Yun said. 

He noted that despite repeated denuclearisation commitments by North Korean leaders over the years, previous talks and agreements have all failed because Pyongyang refused to accept international verification and inspection.

“Before that they have to declare everything from nuclear materials to facilities and weapons and they have to accept international inspections, including from the International Atomic Energy Agency. It can be phased but they have to show they have nothing to hide,” Yun said.

North and South Korea agree to historic leaders’ summit in DMZ on April 27

Chinese military experts also agreed with Yun’s assessment and cautioned that the Trump summit could end in total failure if previous lessons were not learned.

Song Zhongping, a former member of the PLA’s Second Artillery Corps, said if North Korea was serious about negotiations and its denuclearisation pledges, it should commit to freezing its nuclear weapons programme and suspend nuclear tests first. 

“However, North Korea is unlikely to risk its own survival to make such a commitment because halting nuclear tests itself is a bargaining chip and it will only use it when its security requirements are met first,” he said.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan