Grant this to the young North Korean leader: His address Tuesday garnered the world’s attention, particularly in light of Pyongyang’s December test launch of a long-range rocket that could reach South Korea’s capital. As The New York Times wrote Wednesday, “The most significant feature of Kim John-Un’s speech was its marked departure of tone regarding South Korea.”
The South Korean government called Kim’s speech an “empty promise.” For now, there’s every reason to give South Korea, not the North Korean Kim, the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, today’s version of cross-border politics between Korea’s North and South is interesting to watch, if for no other reason than Kim himself. Since taking over for his father, former North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, after his death in 2011, the younger Kim has delivered brief specks of hope for those who long for a lessening of decades-long tensions that remain following the end of the Korean War’s hostilities.
Reliable information rarely escapes this notoriously secretive communist nation. It’s impossible to know where the Kim Jong-Un regime stands on any number of pertinent issues, including nuclear weapons, South Korea policy and the welfare of its citizens.
Thus, Kim’s New Year’s Day speech is a tantalizing nugget. His nation’s past has earned no trust; decades of brinkmanship with South Korea and its allies — including the United States — long ago soured the North’s credibility. Yet, it’s nonetheless interesting to hear Kim discuss reunification and better relations with the South.
“Confrontation between fellow countrymen,” Kim said Tuesday, “leads to nothing but war.”
On that, he’s right.
The quibble, of course, is his phrase “countrymen.” By Western standards, Korea’s North and South are different nations with little in common other than geneology. It is the classic case of Cold War combatants in the modern world: different governments, different ideologies and an immeasurable amount of pent-up distrust built along the nations’ heavily guarded border.
The West’s best approach is to tell Kim Jong-Un that it’s not what you say that matters; it’s what you do. Better relations is a two-way street toward peace.