It was a big relief to Journalists for Peace in the Korean Peninsula (JPKP) on April 27, 2018, when the North Korean President, Kim Jong Un, met with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in. The meeting was at the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), when Kim arrived South Korea for the inter-Korea Summit between the two countries. Since 2017, the JPKP has been campaigning for Peace in the Korean Peninsula.
This is why it was amazing, watching two arch-enemies, holding hands and not guns. What was spectacular was the first contact borderline drama. Both men crossed the borderline into South Korea holding hands to welcome President Kim. A return visit followed immediately, when still holding hands, the two leaders at war, crossed over to North Korea, before returning to South Korea. The memory of the borderline drama would remain as a symbol of peace and exchanges between the two countries.
Even most spectacular at the summit was the peace agreement and the promise by the North Korean leader to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula in May, this year. This development formally brought to an end, 68 years old face-off between the two countries, which culminated into a three-year bloody war, until there was Armistice Agreement in 1953.
But the ceasefire that came with Armistice agreement did not carry peace treaty along. Therefore, although shooting and killing stopped in 1953, the two neighbours at war held each other suspect. The mutual suspicion was further deepened, when external interests entered the crisis taking sides. While China pitched its tent with North Korea, the United States wrapped its protective arms around South Korea, to perpetuate the crisis in a lingering cold war.
Beyond these, however, what is instructive is the familiar adage that “it is better to jaw-jaw, than to war-war” and the outcome of the summit has disappointed book makers and pessimists, who on the eve of this historic event, predicted that the summit may never hold.
Their prediction was against the background that while the hostility lasted, North Korea emerged a nuclear power, threatening its perceived enemies and foes, against whom it mounted nuclear arsenals and other devices of mass destruction.
In defiance to United Nations resolutions on sanctions against North Korea, and threats of possible military actions by the United States, President Kim carried out several missiles and nuclear tests to harass and intimidate neighbouring countries and the rest of the world. He once boasted that the button that would hit the United States was on his table.
Pessimists, therefore, believed that President Kim, once described by a North Korean defector, Hyneonsed Lee, as “the most dangerous man on the planet”, may never agree to denuclearization while United States forces and its nuclear umbrella remain in South Korea. They also pointed at trust issues that may arise between North Korea and the United States in the negotiation for disarmament.
But at the April 27 summit between the two leaders, there was a proclamation of Peace Agreement. By this agreement, Koreans are now one people, to be represented by a single sports team at international fiestas. It proclaims the closure of ballistic missiles testing grounds, among other areas of the agreement. Even before the proclamation, this was partly demonstrated during the 2018 Winter Olympics when both countries presented a joint team.
Few days after the proclamation, events saw the dismantling of loud speakers around border area, once used as instrument of injurious propaganda.
As part of the peace process, United States President, Donald Trump, is to meet with the North Korean leader later this May. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who met with Kim, ahead of the meeting, reportedly said, “there is a real deal when President Donald Trump meets Korean leader, Kim Jong –Un,” pointing out that “North Korea must take irreversible steps to get rid of its nuclear arms programmes.”
What North Korea stands to benefit, include the lifting of subsisting tough economic sanctions that brought the country to its knees, flow of international trade that has ceased as a result of sanctions and possible foreign investments to open up its economy to international players in the sector.
These, however, may not be automatic. Iran, for example, which came under a crippling economy, following international sanctions in 2012, signed a deal with world powers on restriction of Nuclear Programme in 2015, in exchange for removal of sanctions but never got relief due to other considerations.
The other consideration, which may come against relief to North Korea, may be its human rights profile, which must improve. Other challenges ahead include, such critical issues as ideological divide between the North and South Korea, how to encourage participatory democracy in North Korea, where succession to leadership has been by hereditary principles.
But President Moon Jae-in of South Korea appears determined to rise above these challenges. As the architect behind the current build up to peace in the Korean Peninsula, he initiated the peace process through a proposal to President Kim Jong-un, at the World Leaders Summit in Germany in 2017.
With a strong determination to drive the peace process, he followed up his peace proposal to President Kim, when he visited China, an ally of North Korea, to canvass for support for the peace initiative, urging China to persuade the North Korean leader to accept the peace proposal.
President Moon Jae-in further carried the peace campaign to Japan and convincingly, made it clear to the United States, that he needed peace in the Korean Peninsula while persuading his North Korean counterpart.
The peace declaration of April 27, 2018 has, therefore, raised the profile of President Moon Jae-in, as an accomplished leader in the eyes of the world. His Peace Mission has ended 68 years old crisis in the Korean Peninsula and he will go down in history as a powerful and knowledgeable leader with great foresight.
It is against this background that President Moon Jae-in could be trusted with the ability to raise a United Korea above the post-unification challenges ahead. But Moon’s finest moment is yet to come.
–Abraham is a member of JPKP
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