Where is the situation on the Korean Peninsula headed? It is the biggest uncertainty of 2018. At the beginning of this year, South Korea welcomed North Korea to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The two sides established contact on a hotline on Wednesday and high-level government talks are proposed to take place on Tuesday next week in Panmunjom. This is the first contact between Seoul and Pyongyang in two years.
Another tendency on the peninsula is more dramatic. In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said a nuclear button was always on his desk and the entire US mainland was within range. This apparently infuriated US President Donald Trump, who tweeted Tuesday that "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"
The resumption of contact between North and South Korea is like pushing a new door open. But Washington seems indifferent. The US claimed that it would not take talks seriously if they did not move toward banning North Korea's nuclear weapons.
Resolving the nuclear crisis peacefully is probably the most difficult international political goal in the world today. But vying for who has a bigger, more powerful nuclear button is definitely not a solution.
If Pyongyang and Washington get used to such nuclear threats, they will poison international relations in the 21st century. Implying they can use nuclear weapons to attack each other was once quite a rare thing, even during the Cold War. It is to be hoped that both sides exercise restraint in this regard.
Is it possible for Pyongyang to stop nuclear tests, slash or suspend its missile launches for a long time in 2018? The likelihood exists. In Kim's New Year's address, he said the country had completed its nuclear weapons and would focus on the economy.
Now it's the US' turn to send a signal, even a vague one, of decreasing military drills on the Korean Peninsula. If interactions between Washington and Pyongyang can form a tendency to reduce military confrontation, a silver lining can be seen in the peninsula.
Nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles cannot feed North Korea, nor can they help Pyongyang's pursuit of international status. Nuclear weapons serve as a guarantor of a country's security, but they can't be used like tools in a strategic game. North Korea can guarantee its security through other means and that can be discussed once the peninsula situation is stabilized.
The nuclear crisis used to be addressed by a dual-track approach: confrontation and negotiation. But now only confrontation exists, and Pyongyang has acquired more advanced nuclear missile technology. With rising tensions, there is no winner of this contest.
The US is powerful but not almighty. It has to realize the limit of its strength as to whether it can crush North Korea. All sides need to break away from habitual confrontation. Long-term sanctions are difficult to bear for Pyongyang. For the US, comparing the size of its nuclear button with North Korea's is ridiculous.
There won't be a real stalemate on the peninsula. It will get better, or get worse. If there is no major turnaround, a horrible situation might not be so far away.