Photo/IllutrationU.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June (AP file photo)

The international community needs to work out a concrete action plan in 2019 to bring the situation in the Korean Peninsula beyond the current easing of tensions toward long-term peace and stability.

Last year, the tense situation surrounding North Korea’s arms programs changed dramatically due in large part to the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But the developments that have occurred in the region are still mostly symbolic, signaling only the beginning of dialogue.

There can be no substantial progress unless a realistic road map is put in place to a solution to the problem of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile arsenals.

The key question for this year is whether countries concerned can enhance their cooperation to craft such a blueprint.

In his New Year's address to the nation, Kim stressed the importance of economic development. He pledged not to make, test, use or proliferate nuclear arms and expressed his strong desire to hold a second meeting with Trump.

Kim appears to be as eager as ever to put the nation’s dilapidated economy on a sharply upward trajectory. He is making desperate efforts to get the international sanctions against his country eased by using the regime’s nuclear program as the principal bargaining chip.

The international community needs to make North Korea unmistakably understand that it will never see full-fledged reconstruction of its economy unless it completely abandons its nuclear weapons program.

From this point of view, Trump is the one who should act most cautiously.

He has said the location of his second meeting with Kim will be announced shortly, displaying his eagerness to strike a deal with the North Korean leader. But there has been no progress in working-level talks between the two countries to reach an agreement.

If he does meet with Kim again, Trump needs to make a significant achievement that should be no less than a concrete plan to denuclearize North Korea, instead of simply staging a high-profile political show.

It is unclear whether Trump understands this. The U.S. government should offer a convincing explanation about the objectives of the next Trump-Kim summit to the world.

In his New Year's speech, Kim also made overtures to South Korea, proposing to restart the stalled Mount Kumgang tourism program as well as the operation of the Kaesong industrial park.

The South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in, who has been pursuing a reconciliatory policy toward Pyongyang, probably wants to respond to Kim’s call and bring these programs back on track.

Moon has been trying to convince the countries concerned that it is necessary to provide an incentive for North Korea to remain committed to dialogue with the international community.

But Seoul should strictly restrain itself from making any rash move to ease international sanctions against North Korea.

Given that the two business projects have been precious sources of foreign currency for the North, the decisions to restart them must not be made casually.

It is a shame that the relationship between Japan and South Korea has become strained at this crucial juncture. The bilateral dispute over Tokyo’s claim that a South Korean warship had locked its targeting radar on a Self-Defense Forces patrol plane last month is showing signs of getting bogged down.

Since locking a fire-control radar on a target is a highly volatile military action, it is obvious that the two countries need to conduct an investigation to determine the truth and hold talks to prevent a recurrence.

This row offers an opportunity for the defense authorities of the two countries to take steps to improve communications between them.

What must not be forgotten is the reality that Japan and South Korea have no choice but to work together in dealing with North Korea.

Both governments should maintain the view that a solid framework for cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea is a linchpin of stability in Northeast Asia.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 8