For the first time in 60 years, South Korea's national flag, Taegeukgi, will be rising on the Hermit Kindom's soil and Aegukga, the national anthem of South Korea, will be filling the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium.
According to the Soth Korean Ministry of Unification, the North has approved for the first time the hoisting of South Korea's national flag and playing of its anthem in North Korea during the Sept. 11-17 Asian Cup Weightlifting Championships in the North Korean capital.
North Korea has always objected to South Korea's flag being displayed and its national anthem played in the North. The last time Pyangyang refused to permit South Korea's flag and anthem had led World Cup soccer qualifying matches scheduled for Pyongyang to be played in China.
Pyongyang's change of heart comes amid easing tensions on the divided Peninsula. "In addition to host reunions of families divided by the Korean War at the Mount Kumgang in North Korea," reports Jonathan Cheng of Wall Street Journal, "the Koreas have also agreed to reopen the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Zone - the symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas. Then on Sept. 6, North Korea agreed to restart the cross-border military hotline with the South."
The reach of these important agreements between the two Koreas, write James Goodby and Markku Heiskanen of the Brookings Institution, "is a tribute to the steadiness and toughness of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. In fact, it shows a readiness to negotiate on both sides and could be seen as a first success for 'trustpolitik,' President Park's description of her hopes for North-South relations. Perhaps it signals the beginning of a new day in Korea."
Many Korea watchers now see a "bright spell on the Korean Peninsula." Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, says Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. Special Envoy for Six Party Talks, "there is reason for guarded optimism that a peaceful resolution of tensions between the North and South is achievable."
"It is possible that North Korea's new leadership recently assessed the benefits that would accrue from denuclearization," writes Ambassador DeTrani, "in terms of security assurances, economic assistance, foreign investment and ultimately normal relations and international legitimacy, and concluded that a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue is in North Korea's interest. This significant easing of tension between the two Koreas is encouraging and appears to be a policy approach now being pursued by the leadership in Pyongyang."
As North and South Korea are moving forward to narrow their cold-war gap, the general trajectory of international relations in Northeast Asia, however, is heading toward confrontation and conflict, not negiotiation and cooperation.
The United States' strategy of "Pivot to Asia," Japan's confrontational policy toward China, and China's rapid rise and its assertive territorial claims in Asia are all adding up to a volatile brew of military confrontation and strategic collison in East and Northeast Asia. As the world's three largest economies are flexing their military muscle, the Northeast Asia region as a whole is becoming much more unstable and antagonized.
And another major storm is also looming between Japan and its two neighbors in Northeast Asia, China and South Korea. The Japan-China and Japan-South Korea rows over wartime history are coupled with ongoing territorial disputes among three East Asian countries - Japan's sovereignty dispute with South Korea over the Takeshima Islands and its clash over the Senkaku Islands with China.
It is in this context that Washington has not been responsive to Beijing's recent offer of a six-party meeting. On Sept. 5 China proposed a Sept. 18 gathering with the U.S., the two Koreas, Japan and Russia attended by their senior officials. "The United States," a State Department official told South Korea's Yonhap News, "has not made a decision on participation in this event."
Any true reconciliation between the North and South Korea will be a "Mission Impossible" unless it is connected to a wider and comprehensive mechanism for security and cooperation in Northeast Asia. Unfortunate for the Koreans, the surrounding strategic environment is too fraught for them to make much progress. After all, the two Koreas are shrimps among whales, with very little leeway to maneuver between China, Japan, and the United States.
Dr. Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of Marietta College's China Program.