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Hopes of peninsula thaw need kindling with actions

China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-25 08:09

Hopes of peninsula thaw need kindling with actions

South Korean President Moon Jae-In speaks during a press conference marking his first 100 days in office at the presidential house in Seoul on August 17, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]


"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

For two centuries, that famous line by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley has offered numerous people in despair the hope that the dark hours will pass.

It may also have been on the mind of Republic of Korea President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday, when he urged his country's Ministry of Unification to prepare for a thaw in relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Like the freezing chill of winter never halts the footsteps of spring, the more difficult the situation gets, the harder the ROK should try to ease tensions with the DPRK, Moon said. Placing the tense standoff on the Korean Peninsula in the dead of winter, Moon reiterated his belief that a thaw will eventually come.

Great statesmanship no doubt requires some clinging to idealism-the capability to retain and kindle the small flame of hope and to envisage a brighter prospect that lies beyond sight.

The ROK president obviously still has some, considering his undampened enthusiasm for engaging Pyongyang, and his conviction there will be a peaceful conclusion to the DPRK crisis.

Yet unlike the natural inevitability of the cycle of seasons, there is no certainty that bad will turn to good in real-world situations. Depending on the concerned parties' actions or inactions, the current stalemate could go either way.

Despite all the high-decibel threats of mutual destruction and actual saber-rattling, both sides have been careful not to shut the door to dialogue. Both keep signaling willingness to talk, although setting preconditions they know are unlikely to be met.

Perhaps President Moon has been reviewing the past to justify his hopes in a coming spring.

Following a DPRK missile test and suspected nuclear activities in 1998, US special envoy William Perry led a comprehensive process of regional consultation and coordination that once brought Pyongyang to the negotiating table. And the joint statement made on 19 September 2005 following the second phase of the Six-Party Talks that year established a basic framework for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

But if those remarkable headways did not suffice to make a lasting difference, President Moon's good wishes hardly will. Moon's adherence to engagement is to be admired. But it will prove meaningless without the support of corresponding moves that truly de-escalate tensions.

While its joint military drills with the US continue irking Pyongyang, the ROK's deployment of the United States' Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system is alienating other members of the international community trying to denuclearize the peninsula.

Should this pattern persist, the winter President Moon foretells ending may instead prove a long one.

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