The Inter-Korean Summit
On Apr. 27, North and South Korean heads of state Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in met each other for the first time during an inter-Korean summit meetingheld in the so-called Peace House located in the border village of Panmunjom.
Moon and Kim’s meeting was the third inter-Korean summit. The first was held between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and the second was held between South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il in 2007.
The third summit was the first summit held on the southern side of the border instead of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The meeting was filled withsymbolic touches, such as planting a tree together and Kim bringing specially prepared cold noodles, a Pyeongyang specialty. In an unscripted moment, Moon briefly stepped across the border into North Korea at the suggestion of Kim.
Beyond the potent symbolism of the event, the two leaders signed a three page agreement that is being called the “Panmunjom Declaration.”
In the declaration, the two leaders pledged that there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula. To implement this goal, the two sides pledged to improve inter-Korean relations and to “fully implement all existing agreements and declarations adopted between the two sides thus far.”
Furthermore, the two Koreas plan to open a joint liaison office in the DMZ and increase cooperation, exchanges, and mutual visits, including holding reunions for separated families. In addition, they plan to open inter-Korean railways and roads.
The two leaders also pledged to make joint efforts to alleviate the military tension on the Korean peninsula and to end the Korean War through efforts with China and the United States. The two leaders also addressed the North Korean nuclear issue through “complete denuclearization,” to create a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula.” Lastly, Moon agreed to visit Pyongyang in the fall.
As of yet, much of the details of how this agreement will be implemented have yet to be disclosed; however, if faithfully followed, it has the potential to be a key turning point in inter-Korean relations and reconciliation. At a minimum, this inter-Korean summit set a foundation for the upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit.
Challenges for the Upcoming U.S.-North Korea Summit Following the Panmunjeom Declaration
Last week’s inter-Korean summit was the first time in a decade that both nations’ heads of state met in person. The two made several commitments at the meeting. First, the North and South agreed to move towards a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Second, and perhaps most consequentially, the two issued a declaration, which states that “South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
The success of this meeting has raised high expectations for the U.S.-North Korea summit. U.S. President Trump put out a series of Tweets reacting positively. Though vague on details, the success of the inter-Korean dialogue can be seen as a prerequisite for the upcoming U.S.-North Korean summit. If the inter-Korean dialog failed, prospects for the U.S. summit would have been dim.
The U.S.-North Korea summit, tentatively planned for late May or June, is down to two or three possible locations. Among those discussed are Singapore,Sweden, and Switzerland. There have also been moves to prepare staff and information for the summit. Key to this is the nomination of former Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris as ambassador to South Korea, as the post has been vacant for over a year.
There is a debate within the U.S. and abroad about whether or not the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign brought North Korea to the table. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull credited U.S. and China for pressuring North Korea through sanctions. However, North Korea acts as though their weapons programs brought the U.S. to the negotiating table. North Korea has preemptively declared a freeze on further nuclear and missile tests, which are seen as positive steps. However, the concession to freeze further nuclear tests may have been due to the collapse of the Punggye-ri testing site late last year.
A potential peace treaty and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would have far reaching consequences for U.S.-South Korean relations. The U.S.-alliance is legally based on the United Nations Command (UNC) and would have to be restructured in order for U.S. soldiers to remain in South Korea. This could open up protracted U.S.-South Korean negotiations on the issue. The left in South Korean politics has traditionally been somewhat more skeptical of the U.S. alliance. Accordingly, the UN and China would have to be signatories in any peace agreement.
The second issue at hand is the definition of denuclearization. The U.S. defines for North Korea as “(CVID—complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization).” However, North Korea’s definition is more narrow and they could push for removal of U.S. strategic assets such as the nuclear umbrella from Japan and South Korea. Further complicating this is the fact that the inter-Korean summit called for phased denuclearization as opposed to U.S. preference for one sweeping comprehensive agreement, completed by early 2021.
Though successful, the inter-Korean summit is the first step on a long and challenging road. The summit opens up questions of what coexistence, denuclearization, and the U.S.-South Korean alliance would look like going forward. It still remains to be seen how the scope of U.S.-North Korean negotiations will be defined.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe Welcomes the Inter-Korean Summit
On Apr. 27, 2018, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed the inter-Korean summit agreement but urged North Korea to “take concrete action” on denuclearization and to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In a press conference following the summit, Abe expressed praise for the South Korean government’s effort to hold the summit and said “I welcome and take them as positive moves.”
Japan has consistently expressed concern over the issue of abductees taken by North Korea. The Japanese government claims that 17 of their citizens were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Among them, five werereturned to Japan in 2002. North Korea stated that eight died and that the rest never entered North Korea.
Prior to the inter-Korean summit, Prime Minister Abe asked South Korean President Moon Jae-in to mention this abductee issue when he meets with Mr. Kim Jong-un. However, the Moon-Kim joint declaration did not mention the issue. Relatives of the abductees have expressed their hope of North Korea returning their loved ones.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is planning to visit South Korea in early May. He will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. Foreign Minister Kan will brief Foreign Minister Kono on the results of the summit.
Prime Minister Abe agreed with U.S. President Donald Trump on maintaining high pressure on North Korea until North Korea takes concrete actions on nuclear issue. Worrying about being isolated, Japan said that it will coordinate with South Korea and the U.S on other issues regarding the Korean Peninsula.
China and the Inter-Korean Summit
The recent summit between President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has received widespread media attention. While their joint plan to cultivate inter-Korean relations and peace may sound promising, concrete steps towards a peaceful Korea will require international input.
In addition to China’s strategic interests on the Korean Peninsula, China was one of the powers that signed the 1953 armistice of the Korean War. In other words, China will likely have a significant role in any future discussions regarding peace and regional denuclearization. Roughly a month before meeting President Moon, Kim Jong-un unexpectedly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Beijing’s invitation. Xi and Kim jointly agreed to enhance their bilateral ties and jointly contribute to regional peace and development.
The reestablishment of China-North Korea dialogue is significant given that the countries’ respective leaders have not met since 2011. In addition to smoothing over ties with North Korea, China and South Korea remain close as trade partners. Although concrete goals and terms such as “denuclearization” still have yet to be defined, it is likely that China will seek to remain involved as the inter-Korean peace process moves forward.
This Week in History: Children's Day
On May 5, South Korea celebrates Children’s Day in which parents spend time with their children and take them to amusement parks, zoos, and wherever else the children desire. Originally, it was celebrated on May 1. On May 1, 1923, Korean writer Bang Jeong-hwan who was credited with the creation of Children’s Day wrote “An Open Letter to Adults” with this message:
"Children are the future of our nation. Let's show respect for children. Children who grow up with ridicule and contempt from others will become people who disrespect others, while children who grow up with respect from others will become people who respect others in turn."
In 1946, South Korea moved Children’s Day to May 5. But North Korea celebrates its International Children’s Day on June 1.