It is a rare thing for the North Koreans to put out a message of unity to all Koreans at the same time. However, this is exactly the kind of message that was sent out by the reclusive regime on Thursday.
The message said that all Koreans home and abroad should promote travel, cooperation, and general good feeling between the North and South. They said that they have made a breakthrough towards unification, and that they would “smash” anyone who tried to damage that progress.
The statement said that all Koreans should strive towards a deescalation of the military tension that has existed on the Peninsula for a very long time. They make it sound as though they really want to focus on reunification and let bygones be bygones.
The North also stated that it does not believe that joint military drills with “outside forces” (aka the United States and Japan) were helpful to creating a more peaceful and unified Korean Peninsula. It would like to see those drills come to an end as soon as possible.
All of this is a pretty shocking announcement coming from a country that does not typically generate these massive scale announcements about cooperation and unity. They are more well-known for belligerent messages and a defensive tone. The sudden change in rhetoric has some wondering what is going on in the North.
There are two leading candidate explanations that could both be true at least in part. The first is that with the Olympic Games coming up very soon, the North wants to put out its best face for public relations purposes. They want the world to see them as respectable, particularly since they are going to field a team to the games after all.
Another possibility is that the North is attempting to drive a wedge between the South and the United States. South Korea and the United States have taken very different approaches in recent months with President Trump having a much more threatening tone with the North, while South Korea seems willing to cooperate with them at least to some extent. This makes the use of unification talk all the more helpful to North Korea. They can play on cooperating with the South while at the same time make the United States look like the aggressor. It is a strategy with geo-political ramifications, but it might just be one that works out well for the North.