On Monday, North Korea’s National Defense Commission (NDC), the highest military body in the country, called for a cessation of “all hostile military activities” on the Korean peninsula. The NDC did not make the offer unconditionally, however. It is requesting that Seoul cease “attracting” U.S. military hardware, according to the BBC. Additionally, the NDC’s proposal is contingent on South Korea “stopping the intrusions into waters being escalated by South Korean navy warships recently and the frequent firing of bullets and shells in the waters around the five islands,” according to a press release by KCNA, North Korea’s official news agency. Aside from the heavily militarized land border between the two countries, the two Koreas have been sparring across the disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL), the effective maritime boundary between them.
The press release and the proposal are replete with KCNA‘s typical florid ideological prose. The proposals are highly unlikely to be taken seriously by Seoul, not in the least due to the fact that North Korea has not curried any credibility with the South after reneging on several conciliatory measures in the past. The proposal specifically demands “an end to the acts of blackmailing and threatening the fellow countrymen by introducing U.S. nuclear strike means such as nuclear-capable strategic bombers and super-large nuclear-powered carriers into south Korea and its vicinity and immediately cancel its plan for the joint military exercise Ulji Freedom Guardian to be staged with the U.S. in August this year so as to create in advance the atmosphere of various exchanges and contacts to be brisk between the north and the south including the Inchon Asian Games.”
In response, South Korean officials have been unenthusiastic as expected. According to a Yonhap report from Seoul, the South Korean government has requested that Pyongyang must demonstrate its commitment to peace by ending its nuclear weapons program. “North Korea’s proposal lacks sincerity and is preposterous as it blames South Korea for growing inter-Korean military tensions and strained bilateral ties,” said a statement released by South Korea’s unification ministry.
One reason for North Korea’s sudden conciliatory gesture might be that Chinese President Xi Jinping is heading to Seoul on Thursday for a diplomatic meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. According to the Wall Street Journal, this is the first time in over 20 years that a Chinese president has flown to Seoul without first stopping in North Korea. Xi’s move highlights increasing distance between Pyongyang and Beijing since Kim Jong-un took over from his late father. Beijing’s frustration with North Korea’s continued provocations might have urged Pyongyang to make this declaration in an attempt to win some favor with Xi’s government. This argument falls short, however, considering that Pyongyang did test fire ballistic missiles just ahead of Xi’s visit. As Xi tours Seoul, North Korea’s provocations will likely reverberate stronger than will its proposal to end all hostilities with South Korea.
Xi’s visit to Seoul this week will likely be revealing as to where China and North Korea stand diplomatically. Xi and Park will likely call for Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, though Xi will be certain to appear as impartial as possible.