A week after North Korea said it would send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, the regime’s demands have taken on a sinister pattern.
Reports emerged Tuesday that North Korea demanded the South return defectors who fled the totalitarian regime. That came after requiring that South Korea pay the North’s Olympic costs and an agreement by the United States and South Korea to suspend a planned joint military exercise.
The demands came to light since last week’s talks between North and South Korea — the first sit-down between the two countries in more than two years.
“This is why all those crotchety hawks evinced such skepticism at North Korea’s talks,” tweeted Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at Pusan National University in South Korea. “We all saw this coming.”
The South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday that the North demanded the return of 12 women who escaped in 2016 from their jobs at the restaurant in Ningbo, China, a demand the paper said the South is legally bound to refuse.
South Korea’s government said the timing is too sensitive to comment, the newspaper said.
The North has warned that it will not agree to more reunions for families split by the Korean War unless the defectors, and another woman who fled from elsewhere, are returned.
The talks last week occurred after the U.S. agreed to South Korea’s request to postpone a large military exercise, which usually involves 30,000 American troops and 200,000 South Koreans, until after the Olympics are held Feb. 9-25. in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
On Friday, a North Korean state-run publication issued a demand for a “permanent halt” to U.S.-South Korean military drills while inter-Korean talks continue, according to The Strait Times of Singapore.
“Inter-Korean talks and war drill can never be compatible,” the North Korean publication, Uriminzokkiri, declared.
North Korea, which is under sanctions by the United Nations and U.S. aimed at ending its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs, also succeeded in getting South Korea to agree to fund its Olympic delegation, which will include as many as 500 athletes, performers, officials, and reporters, according to The Hankyoreh, a South Korean online publication.
South Korea will pay the entire delegation’s expenses, said author and Korea analyst Gordon Chang.
“This is typical. (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s) family playbook goes back several decades,” Chang said. “First they refuse to talk to South Korea. Then they make a bold overture. Next comes demands and then they throw a tantrum.”
If the Trump administration puts enough pressure on North Korea, the Kim family might agree it has no choice but to disarm, Chang said. But the White House has yet to impose sanctions where they would be most effective — on its top two trading partners, China and Russia, he added.
The North Korean demands were revealed as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Tuesday in Vancouver with foreign ministers from 20 nations that sided with the U.S. during the Korean War, which ended in 1953, to discuss how to pressure North Korea to quit its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
“We must increase the costs of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea must come to the table for credible negotiations,” Tillerson said in his opening comments.
Tillerson called for interdiction operations at sea to prevent ship-to-ship transfers of banned items, and for the punishment of sanction evaders and violators. He rejected the “freeze-for-freeze” approach suggested by North Korea and China to halt the North’s banned weapons testing in return for legal military exercises by the South and the U.S.
“We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or solidarity,” Tillerson said.