A recent address by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that urged an end to “confrontation” between his country and South Korea may offer a glimmer of hope for the peninsula.
The speech followed the election last month of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye, who has stated an interest in improving relations with North Korea. Mr. Kim has pledged to improve North Korea’s economy by boosting coal mining, electricity production, metallurgical industries, rail transport, and agriculture.
Mr. Kim evidently sees South Korea as the prime candidate to provide capital and expertise to make these advances possible for his desperately poor nation. By raising Korean reunification in such a public way, he put on the table the stickiest subject in both countries, which also is of great interest to China, Japan, and the United States.
Germany’s reunification in 1990 is a possible model, but it suggests a collection of problems that must be resolved. East Germany was economically weak and a puppet of the old Soviet Union. After reunification, it was dominated and rebuilt by West Germany, allied with the West.
The Koreas’ division is a similar remnant of the Cold War. It is possible that Mr. Kim’s speech is one more example of North Korea promising much and delivering nothing other than words. But his timing is intriguing.
North Korea just fired a rocket into space, renewing concerns about its growing nuclear-weapons capacity. Mr. Kim may feel the feat gave him enough political cover as a new leader to take bold steps in diplomacy toward South Korea.
President Park has indicated that she is interested in moving away from the hard-line approach taken by her predecessor toward North Korea, and seeking more “sunshine” in the relationship. She is also willing to meet with Mr. Kim.
The best course for the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, and China, which is nervous over the thought of North Korea escaping its orbit through reunification, is to encourage a new relationship among the 75 million Koreans who remain divided by an old conflict.
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