North Korea on Wednesday unilaterally cancelled inter-Korean high-level talks and will reconsider the agreed-upon summit talks with the United States. Pyongyang cancelled the inter-Korean talks by sending a notification just 10 hours before they were to take place. It called the South Korea-U.S. Mex Thunder joint air strike exercise a rehearsal for invasion of the North and warned that Washington should “undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit.” The North’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said that Pyongyang would “no longer be interested” in any nuclear talks “if the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment.”
The North’s sudden shift to a hardline stance appears to be it’s traditional negotiation tactics – brinkmanship it occasionally resorts to in an attempt to enhance its negotiating power and tame dialogue partners. In January, the North discourteously sent to the South its notification in the middle of the night calling off sending its art performance inspectors or a joint concert with the South at the North Korean resort in Mount Kumgang. Pyongyang’s belated mention of the military exercise that started five days ago and a former North Korean diplomat-turned defector’s criticism of the so-called “supreme dignity” are the North’s usual excuses.
The North has probably been offended by hardline remarks made within the Trump administration. As Washington upped its ante by demanding Pyongyang’s nuclear abandonment, Lybian-style nuclear deal, and raising issues with the North’s biological weapons and human rights situation, Pyongyang took aim at Washington by taking inter-Korean high-level talks hostage. As the North’s move came after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for properly dealing with changes in the international political situation at the Central Foreign Affairs Commission meeting on the previous day, it is suspected that Pyongyang’s action had been coordinated with Beijing.
It is natural for Seoul and Washington to decide to continue the Max Thunder exercise as planned despite the North’s protest. However, it is true that the U.S. decision to not send the B-52 strategic bombers to the exercise looks as if Washington’s taking a step back. Kim Jong Un had said he “understood” South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises. Taking principled responses is the only way to neutralize the North’s common tactics. That would be the only way that would make Pyongyang to realize that its brinkmanship is a foolish act that would cause questions over its sincerity.