North Korea's dangerous stance of wielding "nuclear forces" remains unchanged. South Korea should maintain pressure on Pyongyang without disrupting cooperation with Japan and the United States.
In his New Year's address, Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, declared the operational deployment of an intercontinental ballistic missile. He said decisively the "nuclear button" is on his desk, and the entire United States is within the range of a nuclear strike by his country.
Kim has also instructed mass production and swift deployment of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, "the reliability of which have already been proved to the full."
Many observers believe North Korea's ICBMs are technically incomplete. However, after repeated tests of its intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan, the improvement of missile capabilities has been confirmed. Provocative remarks that would raise military tensions are simply unacceptable.
In response, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter his nuclear button is "a much bigger & more powerful one." This response lacks the dignity befitting a leader of a superpower.
In a message to South Korea, Kim has expressed his readiness to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics to be held in February. He also has restored a hotline between the two Koreas' authorities and held high-level inter-Korean talks Tuesday.
Such moves are apparently aimed at weakening the international noose on North Korea by engaging the South to estrange Seoul from the United States.
In the New Year's address, Kim cited significantly "improving the people's standard of living" as a task. The regime is undoubtedly facing difficulties. Behind this situation is the fact that economic sanctions against Pyongyang have steadily taken effect. The people's living circumstances have been squeezed by gas price increases and other resulting effects.
In response to North Korea's nuclear tests and ballistic missile firings, the U.N. Security Council has strengthened trade restrictions such as on refined oil products. Efforts also must be increased for the surveillance and detection of smuggling.
South Korean President Moon Jae In has welcomed the North's positive attitude toward its participation in the Pyeongchang Games, saying Pyongyang has "agreed to our proposal to make the Olympics an opportunity for peace." It seems to be an inflated view typical for Moon, who consistently takes a conciliatory attitude toward North Korea.
Moon had repeatedly called for inter-Korean talks since taking office, but Pyongyang ignored the calls. His desire to realize the North's participation in the Games and tout it as his administration's achievement in a domestic political appeal is discernible.
Moon and Trump have agreed their countries will not conduct joint military exercises during the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics. Further concessions could send the wrong signal to North Korea. Seoul should strongly urge Pyongyang to stop military provocations during the upcoming inter-Korean talks.
The United States intends to draw North Korea into talks toward the relinquishment of its nuclear and missile development by putting maximum pressure on the country. It is vital that the inter-Korean talks will be held in a way conducive to such a strategy.
The Japan News