South Korea wants “meaningful dialogue” with North Korea and stresses that Seoul is willing to provide corresponding economic rewards at each step of a phased denuclearisation process.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has said his government has no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent in the face of growing North Korean nuclear threats, as he urged the North to return to dialogue aimed at exchanging denuclearisation steps for economic benefits.
In a news conference in Seoul, Yoon said on Wednesday South Korea doesn’t desire political change in North Korea that’s brought by force and he called for diplomacy aimed at building sustainable peace between the rivals amid tensions over the North’s accelerating weapons programme.
Yoon expressed hope for “meaningful dialogue” with North Korea over his plan and stressed that Seoul is willing to provide corresponding economic rewards at each step of a phased denuclearisation process if the North commits to a genuine “roadmap” toward fully abandoning its weapons programme.
“We are not telling them to ‘denuclearise entirely first and then we will provide,’” Yoon said.
“What we are saying is that we will provide the things we can in correspondence to their steps if they only show a firm determination (toward denuclearisation).”
Yoon’s comments came days after he proposed an “audacious” economic assistance package to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons programme, while avoiding harsh criticism of the North after it threatened “deadly” retaliation over a Covid-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
Tensions could rise
Tensions could rise further next week as the United States and South Korea kick off their biggest combined military training in years to counter the North Korean threat.
The North describes such drills as invasion rehearsals and has often responded to them with missile tests or other provocations.
Yoon’s proposal for large-scale aid in food and healthcare and modernising power and port infrastructure resembled previous South Korean offers that were rejected by North Korea, which is speeding its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, seen by leader Kim Jong-un as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Inter-Korean ties have worsened amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the US that derailed in early 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of crippling US-led sanctions on the North in exchange for disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its missile testing to a record pace in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons so far, including its first intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.
The heightened testing activity underscores North Korea’s dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
Kim could up the ante soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit on its ICBMs.
While Kim’s ICBMs get much of the international attention, North Korea is also expanding its range of nuclear-capable, short-range missiles that can target South Korea.