North Korea and South Korea are back at the negotiating table

Pleased with yourselves?
Pleased with yourselves?
Image: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File
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The North and South Korean governments will meet on Sunday for diplomatic talks, the first since 2011. Pyongyang has done a swift about turn. Just two months ago it was threatening to start a nuclear war.

But Kim Jong-un still has work to do before he can regain the former status quo. North Korea may succeed in persuading the South to re-open a joint industrial complex and resume contact through a Red Cross hotline, but it is unlikely to persuade the US and UN to undo the latest round of economic sanctions, or get the Chinese to re-open its foreign trade bank account.

Instead, North Korea may benefit in different ways. It restarted a nuclear reactor in April, thought to be capable of enriching plutonium for nuclear weapons, and Chinese economic engagement doesn’t seem to have diminished much. If anything China is attempting to bring North Korea closer into its economic orbit, as the construction of a high-speed rail link to the North Korean border demonstrates (paywall).

It is unclear why Kim threatened his neighbors (and Austin, Texas) with nuclear annihilation last month, nor why the threats stopped. But the cycle of threats followed by humility has won his country aid and assistance in the past. It may just do so again.