The potential reopening of North-South dialogue is an important development prompting many pundits to speculate as to whether Kim Jong Un is serious or whether it is merely a tactic. Certainly, the North Koreans recognize the potential for driving a “wedge” between Washington and Seoul by launching such an initiative. But this isn’t just a tactic—a close examination of Pyongyang’s January 3 announcement on opening the inter-Korean communication channel makes it clear that this is the “gold standard” when it comes to North Korean initiatives. It is very serious.
Discerning how serious it is requires going beyond cherry-picking lines from Kim’s New Year’s Speech and the subsequent announcement.
In that context, there are nine reasons why this is clearly a serious North Korean proposal.
First, the statement is not merely from a “spokesman” of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC)—a front organization dealing inter-Korean issues—but delivered by the CPRC chairman in person. The level of the messenger imparts added weight to the message.
Second, the announcement is identified as the “stand of the DPRK” being delivered very specifically “upon authorization” of Kim Jong Un. There is to be no misunderstanding of the pedigree of what follows. The North Korean leader has officially and publicly authorized the statement.
Third, the announcement identifies South Korean President Moon Jae-in by name and proper title. That is not only a sign of respect but is meant as a signal that Pyongyang is willing to deal with him.
Fourth, the statement very specifically acknowledges in positive terms Moon’s instructions at a state council meeting for “relevant [South Korean] sectors to establish working level measures.” The North could have put the South’s response in less personal terms, but by attributing it directly to Moon it further cements the image of Pyongyang’s willingness to deal with him.
Fifth, the announcement portrays Kim Jong Un as personally responding to Moon by giving an “affirmative and high estimation” and expressing “welcome” to the stand of “President Moon Jae In.”
Sixth, it reports Kim’s personal instructions to the most important North Korean entity dealing with inter-Korean affairs, the United Front Department, as well as to “relevant DPRK government units” to “promptly” take “substantial measures with the South Korean authorities out of sincere stand and honest attitude.”
Seventh, it portrays Kim’s proposal to dispatch a delegation to the Olympics and the talks between N-S authorities for realizing this dispatch as the “first meaningful and good step for improved relations under the present situation.” That suggests there could be more to come.
Eighth, implicitly, the announcement sets up a positive, nearly personal relationship between the highest authorities of the two Koreas.
Ninth, it underlines in a highly unusual way that Kim Jong Un is all in, fully and personally committed to following through on the proposal to the South in his New Year’s address.