UNPRECEDENTED RESULTS, Fifth North-South Summit eases Korean tensions

Diplomacy between North and South Korea continues apace in 2018, as fifth inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang underlines the remarkable depth and breadth of their engagement. Not only did Moon deliver a speech about reunification to a stadium full of 150000 North Koreans the first time a South Korean leader has ever addressed Pyongyang citizens directly but he brought home a plan to increase family reunions and welcome Kim Jong-un to Seoul.

This is totally unprecedented, as the South Korean president giving a speech in front of a huge crowd of North Korean people and saying things like, ‘We’re building a new fatherland.’ We live in very exciting times. In Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Plaza, clusters of pro-peace demonstrators camped out with signs wishing Moon luck. A few called for the US military to withdraw from South Korea, stating that peace had already been achieved. Others held signs demanding the end of South Korea’s National Security Law, which gives the government grounds to persecute speech deemed too pro-North.

Gigantic outdoor TV screens played live footage of the event, Kim Jong-un’s face looming over the city in technicolor. Behind one such screen, pedestrians rested at a picnic table modeled after the one Kim and Moon sat at in the first inter-Korean summit in April. But there were noticeably fewer people hanging in the streets on the day of South Korea’s third summit. At the end of the summit, Kim Jong-un sent Moon off with an expensive parting gift: two tons of rare mushrooms to enjoy during Korea’s upcoming autumn harvest festival, Chuseok.

But certainly, the real treasure lies in the potential to lock down lasting peace. If all goes as planned, North and South Korea will submit joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics, remove 11 guards post from the DMZ and most surprisingly set up video conferences for divided families to reunite. (In the past, reunions were so rare that South Korean families had to win them through a lottery system. The family reunions speak to both side’s willingness to really change the nature of their relationship.

Meanwhile, both nations agreed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for an inter-Korean railway system before the end of 2018. However, South Korean aid to build the train network would violate international sanctions. In this summit, North Korea made a promising step toward denuclearization: an offer to dismantle its Yongbyong Nuclear Facility. But Kim Jong-un also made it clear that the dismantlement hinges on whether the United States takes corresponding measures in other words, concessions to show its

good faith. So far, the US response has been lukewarm. Trump tweeted that the summit’s results were very exciting, but he has yet to offer another meeting with Kim Jong-un. Trump canceled a recent meeting planned between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials, partially citing a lack of satisfactory nuclear progress.

The most significant outcome of the latest meeting was the signing by their respective defence ministers of a deal to reduce military tension along the boundary separating the two countries. The agreement, which military delegations had been working on for months, included important provisions to manage and lower the pressure in the air, on land and at sea. It is undeniable that Moon and Kim have achieved on the inter-Korean front especially military-to-military measures is greatly significant, but North Korea’s disarmament remains a distant goal. At the very least, Moon’s efforts will prevent an immediate collapse of the US-North Korea process, but Pyongyang and Washington are no closer to forging an understanding on the fundamental questions that divide them.

In the meantime, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been true to his word on providing support for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s economic transformation plans. Earlier this year, Kim adopted a new strategic line for his country in which he prioritised economic development and downplayed his nuclear arsenal. A military parade earlier to celebrate the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding underlined this, with several economic floats calling for national development

Accordingly, the September 19 Pyongyang Declaration agreed by the two leaders includes a promise to pursue substantial measures to further advance exchanges and cooperation based on the spirit of mutual benefit and shared prosperity. The two sides are enthusiastically pushing ahead, even as South Korea’s ability to make good on many of its promises will be limited by the international sanctions in place against the North.

The fifth inter-Korean summit – the third between Moon and Kim this year – also saw the South Korean president serve as more of a direct mediator between the United States and North Korea than before. For Moon, while progress on inter-Korean issues was a critical impetus for the summit, revivifying the flagging U.S.-North Korea diplomatic process was a greater priority in the weeks leading up to his latest encounter with Kim.

Fortunately for Moon, he left Pyongyang with a big win. The Pyongyang Declaration saw Kim offering up more specific concessions on his ballistic missile and nuclear programmes than he had done at either the June 12 summit with US President Donald Trump or his initial meeting with Moon at Panmunjom on April 27.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, following talks in Pyongyang, reiterated their shared desire to see the Korean peninsula turned into a land of peace that is free of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats. Although the Pyongyang summit builds on the agreements and commitments made through the prior Moon-Kim summit held in Panmunjom in April, it is not yet clear whether the latest meeting will lead to tangible progress between the United States and North Korea on denuclearization and peace on the peninsula.

The main focus of outside attention of inter-Korean summit was whether it can find ways to resolve the stalemated diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program. Also at stake was what steps the Koreas will take to lower decades-long military tensions and improve ties. A look at the key issues on the agenda for the summit in Pyongyang between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in that is their third meeting this year:

Since entering talks earlier this year, Kim has repeatedly promised to realize the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but without providing a detailed timetable or road map for the process. Kim has dismantled his nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites and taken other goodwill measures, such as releasing three American detainees. His government wants the United States to respond by jointly declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, but US officials want Kim to take additional steps that can prove he’s sincere about denuclearization.

Moon said that he’ll mediate between Kim and President Donald Trump to help them settle their differences and move toward denuclearization. But his chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, had acknowledged earlier that it’s difficult to have any optimistic outlook for progress on denuclearization during the summit.

Kim and Moon could agree on a package of steps aimed at drastically reducing their countries’ military standoff along their tense border. Their military officers have been working together to draft such steps since Moon and Kim agreed to eliminate the danger of war during their first summit in April. Im said that he expects this week’s summit to yield meaningful accords that fundamentally remove the danger of armed clashes and ease fears of war between the two Koreas. The Koreas’ 248-kilometer (155-mile) border, called the Demilitarized Zone, is the world’s most heavily fortified, with hundreds of thousands of combat-ready troops deployed along a line that’s laced with mines, barbed wire fences and anti-tank traps. The countries’ poorly marked western sea boundary has been the scene of several deadly naval skirmishes in recent years.

The summit also focused on how to further improve inter-Korean ties in line with what the leaders agreed to during their April summit. Some of the April accords have already been implemented, such as holding a temporary reunion of relatives separated by the Korean War, cooperating during the recently concluded Asian Games and establishing the Koreas’ first liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in October 2018.

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