A New Year's Day address by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urging an end to "confrontation" between North and South may offer a glimmer of hope for the peninsula in 2013.
The speech followed the election last month of new South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has stated an interest in improving relations with North Korea. Mr. Kim's address repeated his pledge to improve the economy by boosting coal mining, electricity production, metallurgical industries, rail transport and agriculture. If he sees South Korea as the prime candidate to provide capital and expertise to make these advances possible for his desperately poor nation, then it is logical for him to woo the South.
By raising Korean reunification in such a public way, Mr. Kim 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 looms as a possible model, but it comes with a collection of problems to be resolved beforehand. East Germany was economically weak and a satrapy of the old Soviet Union. After reunification it was dominated and rebuilt by West Germany, allied with the West. The Koreas' division is similarly a remnant of the Cold War.
It is possible, of course, that Mr. Kim's speech is one more example of North Korea promising much and delivering nothing other than words. But his timing is interesting. North Korea just fired a rocket into space, raising concerns again about a growing nuclear weapons capacity. It could also be, however, that Mr. Kim felt that the feat provided him enough political cover as a new leader to take bold steps now in diplomacy toward the South.
Ms. Park has indicated that she is interested in moving away from the hard-line approach taken by her predecessor on North Korea and toward more "sunshine" in the relationship. She is also willing to meet with Mr. Kim.
The best course for the United States, with 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 quietly a relationship that holds promise for the 75 million Koreans who remain divided by an old conflict.
First Published January 4, 2013 12:00 AM