Less than a week after Pyongyang test-fired a new ballistic missile presumed capable of reaching the United States, and two days after the US and the Republic of Korea launched their biggest-ever joint air exercise, the fact that a senior United Nations official was in Pyongyang for discussions with a leading official of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea raises hopes that diplomacy can still defuse the Korean Peninsula nuclear crisis.
What Jeffrey Feltman, UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, and DPRK Vice-Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk talked about on Wednesday remains unclear. But it is to be hoped that the UN envoy at least helped forestall a final showdown on the peninsula, even if he cannot talk total sense into the DPRK leadership.
The odds on a full-scale war breaking out on the peninsula have never been higher, with the US warning the regime in Pyongyang will "be utterly destroyed", and the DPRK countering by saying that Washington is "begging for nuclear war". Any misjudgment or miscalculation threatens to turn this war of words into hostilities that would put the lives of millions of people in peril.
That Jilin Daily, a local newspaper in China's Jilin province bordering the DPRK, published a full page of "common sense" advice on Wednesday informing people how to protect themselves from a nuclear explosion sparked speculation among Chinese netizens about how imminent war was. Although it should not be hyped up, the newspaper's move does shed some light on how sensitive the Korean Peninsula issue is. Despite Beijing's best efforts to persuade the DPRK to suspend its nuclear warhead and missile tests, and the US to suspend its military drills with the Republic of Korea, the two belligerents seem to be set on a head-on collision.
The window to avoiding the worst-case scenario has not yet closed. There is still time for stakeholders to put aside their differences and work jointly so that reason will prevail. Wars may begin with an end in mind, but do not necessarily end how and when you please. An armistice has been in place for 64 years, surely it is time all the stakeholders sat down and thrashed out a permanent peace deal.