So after long hours of negotiations, the two Koreas have agreed that high-level talks will go ahead this week. This was clearly no easy victory for either side, as the failure to agree on a joint statement shows. The battle is clearly not yet over since the DPRK (North Korea) has not yet said at what level it will be represented and it would not be the first time that arguing over such issues has led to delays or even cancellation. We are still at the circling stage; the two sides are eyeing each other, looking for weak spots and the engagement has not yet begun.
What is being indicated is that the rhetoric of March and April is for the moment at rest. Some of that rhetoric was standard. The DPRK professes to be concerned every time the ROK (South Korea)-U.S. forces engage in joint exercises. Such manoeuvres are not just the defensive moves claimed, according to the North, but could be camouflage for the start of an attack. Of course, we know that this is not the case – perhaps – but it does look different from the North and frankly, having seen the Team Spirit exercises on the ground back in the 1980s, I am not surprised by the DPRK protests. It may be that the joint exercises are not meant to be provocative but they do look pretty frightening. This year the DPRK had an additional reason, as it saw it, to act tough, following the imposition of more UN-backed sanctions after its December 2012 rocket launch and February 2013 nuclear test. Much of the bluster was for domestic consumption, to show that Kim Jong Un was every bit as tough as his father and grandfather. It was also probably intended to send a similar message to the ROK’s new president, Park Geun-hye. She too needed to stand firm, to show that she was no push-over.