National Commentaries

Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s Address, and the surge of diplomatic overtures that followed, came as a shock to many. The preceding year had been marked by the North’s heightened efforts toward completing its nuclear program, demonstrating a significant technological leap and leading it to more confidently declare itself a “nuclear state.” Combined with Donald Trump’s penchant for impulsive retorts, the North’s provocations had prompted nontrivial debates about the possibility—or even imminence—of military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. Against this backdrop, Kim’s olive branch was a welcome, if surprising, development: Kim took a notably conciliatory tone toward the South, suggesting the North’s participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. For Moon Jae-in, rapprochement with the North was strategically imperative in the immediate term: its participation in the Olympics ensured successful completion of his first major diplomatic event, and the resulting thaw in North-South relations could ease the tension that had built up over a rhetorical standoff between Trump and Kim. But beyond the provisional relief, can Moon use this diplomatic momentum to facilitate durable peace on the Korean Peninsula?

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