Asked about the warming diplomatic relations between North and South Korea, US vice president Mike Pence said last week that Washington wanted to see the new detente come “to an end as soon as the Olympic flame is extinguished”.
You can’t get much more bluntly obdurate and belligerent than that. Have the Americans no shame?
Pence subsequently contradicted himself when he told US media that Washington may be open to diplomacy with North Korea while maintaining its “maximum pressure” policy. Given the background of belligerence from the Trump administration towards Pyongyang, any belated US overtures of diplomacy need to be treated with caution.
That means that as soon as the 23rd Winter Games wrap up later this month, Washington can be expected to ramp up pressure on its ally South Korea to take a more adversarial line on North Korea.
How much more counter-productive can you get?
Over the weekend, there were hugely significant diplomatic milestones reached between the two Koreas. South Korean President Moon Jae-in greeted and shook hands with Kim Yo-jung, the younger sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It was the first time that a member of the Kim family ever visited South Korea.
President Moon also greeted North Korean President, Kim Yong-nam. The dignitaries met at the Blue House, the official residence of South Korea’s president in what appeared to be a cordial exchange.
A major development was the acceptance of an invitation by President Moon to visit North Korea “as soon as possible” to hold face-to-face talks with Kim Jong-un. Kim’s sister was said to have conveyed the personal message. That forthcoming encounter – would be the third round of inter-Korea talks since the beginning of this year – and would arguably mark the biggest diplomatic event towards an historic reconciliation since the end of the Korean War (1950-53).
Given Washington’s hardline position of demanding North Korea to terminate its nuclear weapons program before any dialogue gets underway, one can anticipate that Washington may try to block any meeting between the two Korean leaders. This will be a real test of South Korea’s autonomy from Washington’s policy.
We can expect too the resumption of US-led war games around the Korean Peninsula. The usual military maneuvers were earlier this year put on hold at the request of South Korean President Moon Jae-in in order to facilitate a rapprochement for the Olympic event. Going by Pence’s bellicose rhetoric, the US will step up the war games again, which will inevitably strain – if not thwart – the nascent cordial ties between Seoul and Pyongyang.
North Korea has long protested US military exercises on the Korean Peninsula as a provocation and threat of war.
What is emerging very visibly is the destabilizing role of the United States in Asia-Pacific. Washington’s position is starkly opposed to any peaceful dialogue. That’s it. It is a brazen admission of its belligerent designs for the region.
As the world’s nations were gathering for the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov slammed Washington’s provocative announcement of more “tougher sanctions” being loaded up on North Korea.
“The US bears responsibility for straining new peace efforts between North and South Korea,” said Ryabkov, who added that the new sanctions were cynically timed by Washington to scuttle the inter-Korea talks.
This cynical politicization of the Olympics by the Americans is staggering in its brazenness. They are using both barrels too.
Out of one barrel, the US has foisted its agenda of using the Olympics to denigrate and demonize Russia over the fabricated doping scandal. The banning of Russian athletes over highly dubious allegations of drug abuse is an orchestrated propaganda stunt to demean Russia’s international image.
Out of the other barrel, Washington is doing everything possible to snuff out the Olympic ideal of “sport unifying peoples”.
Ahead of the Games, as noted, vice president Pence was in Japan warning that the “US would defend its allies against North Korean aggression”. This is a tired American trope always aimed at militarizing the situation and polarizing relations. To further wind up the aggravation, in addition to announcing draconian new sanctions, Pence also vilified North Korea as “the most tyrannical regime on Earth”. (Ironic guilt projection surely!)
While in Japan, Pence did hint vaguely that he might be open to a brief exchange with the North Korean delegates during the opening ceremony of the Olympics in South Korea’s PyeongChang.
In the end, Pence reverted to type, by snubbing the attendance of a dinner being hosted by President Moon for the North Korean dignitaries.
Furthermore, the American vice president pointedly invited an American citizen, the father of Otto Warmbier, to accompany him during the Olympic ceremony. Warmbier was the American student who was imprisoned in North Korea and who died last year shortly after being repatriated to the US by Pyongyang due to his failing health condition while in custody. It’s not clear if the student was abused in prison or if his health simply declined. But Washington has stridently used the case as “evidence” of North Korean state brutality.
In any case, it seems clear that the Trump administration has been totally wrong-footed by recent Korean politics. Despite incendiary rhetoric from Trump against North Korea – threatening to “totally destroy” the country – Pyongyang has reciprocated diplomatic overtures with South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has a strong political background in seeking rapprochement with the North going back to the “Sunshine Policy” during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Moon has shown an admirable determination to pursue detente with Kim Jong-un in spite of Washington’s intransigence and hostility.
The next steps after the end of the Olympics will be crucial. Will President Moon buckle to Washington’s pressure to become more adversarial? Or will he stand up to the Americans by insisting the US-led war games must be further postponed so that dialogue is allowed to consolidate?
And that is the danger. While the Koreans have been talking over the past two months and cementing cordial ties over the Olympics, it is ominous that Washington has been steadily moving B-52 and B-2 nuclear bombers into the region at its Pacific base of Guam. There have also been provocative US media reports of the Trump administration considering a “bloody nose” pre-emptive attack on North Korea.
The glaring contradiction is highly instructive of Washington’s real nature as a belligerent, criminal regime. While the Koreans are attempting to find some peaceful coexistence, the Americans are recklessly agitating for war.
The odious politicization of the Olympics by Washington with regard to Russia and Korea is an eye-opener of American destructive designs.
Washington doesn’t just want to snuff out the Olympic torch. It wants to torch the entire region.