As the world counts down in days to the third Inter-Korea Summit scheduled to hold at the Peace House, in the south border village of Panmunjeom, the pertinent question on peoples’ mind is: can the summit broker lasting peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula? Can both sides adhere to the agreements of the summit? Is North Korea serious about denuclearizing nuclear warheads and missiles it’s spent more than half a century developing? And what would it demand to do so?
Since former President Kim Dae-jung made his Berlin Declaration to pursue peace with North Korea and the denuclearization of the peninsula, two Inter-Korean summits with two different leaders on both sides have taken place in the years 2000 and 2007, without any lasting pact or real progress in denuclearizing the peninsula.
Areas of agreements between the two countries which proved successful at some points such as the reuniting of families separated during the 1950s Korean War, the opening-up of border roads and railways between the two countries, and the expansion of inter-Korea economic cooperation, are deadlocked owing to breaches of summit agreement. In addition, there is North Korea’s violation of international nuclear treaty through its continued building and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads over Japan, South Korea and the United States Allied zones, which it regards as its worst enemy. The world has not witnessed such war tensions as it had since late last year with President Donald Trump’s and North Korea’s President Kim Jong-un exchange threats of nuclear disaster.
Kim Jong-un’s agreement to a inter-summit 7 years after assumption to power to improve inter-Korea relations gone sour since 2008, his sudden acquiescence to denuclearisation, plus an expected meeting with the US, though welcome is still viewed with much wariness.
At the 2007 inter-summit, North Korea made no specific mention of its commitment to denuclearization, which is necessary to clear doubts that it would give up its nuclear weapons at the end. Rather, it focused on termination of the existing Armistice between the two Koreas, building a peace regime, and normalization of relations with the South.
This time, South Korea and the US have stressed denuclearisation of the peninsula as foremost agenda at the upcoming summits, followed by settlement of peace on the Peninsula and progress on inter-Korea relations. Seemingly, South Korea economic cooperation with the North is determinant on the success of denuclearization talks.
To ensure success, South Korea worked at allaying North Korea’s fear of the ousting of its present authority. President Moon Jae-in listed among his policies towards North Korea relations to include: pursuant of a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that guarantees the security of the North Korean regime, a step-by-step, comprehensive approach to complete denuclearization of the North, and the establishment of a permanent peace regime and institutionalization of peace. This means termination of the existing Armistice established between South Korea and North Korea post the 1950-53 Korean War, to be replaced by a proposed legislation of inter-Korean agreement terms, a declaration of the Korean War’s end, and the signing of a Korean Peninsula peace agreement that will ensure survival of peace beyond administrations.
But can the North totally abandon the nuclearization programme it has taken over half a century to develop?
North Korea’s history of nuclear development began with the end of World War II, following America’s defeat and bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, former colonizer of Korea. This led to the ideological division of Korea. In 1950, Chairman of the State Affairs, North Korea, Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, moved to invade South Korea and almost succeeded but for the US aiding South Korea which put an end to his forceful plans of unification. Post the three-year Korean War which led to an armistice between the South and the North, North Korea didn’t forget its carpet bombing by the US which fuels its fear and desire to protect itself from the US, according to a TIMES report. In the wake of the armistice, the Soviet Union helped North Korea begin the research needed to eventually achieve nuclear capability.
While North Korea is still slapped with UN sanctions thereby cutting-off economic or trade activities with the rest of the world, particularly its chief trade partners, China and Russia, this limits the space of economic engagements South Korea can maneuver with the North, under the proposed New Economic Map scheduled for discuss at the summit. South Korea views these sanctions a deterrent to ensure the North lives up to declarations of June 15, 2000 and October 4, 2007, as well as the outcomes of the awaited summit. Therefore, whatever the economic plans to boost trade and industrial development between the two Koreas, such as the continuation of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex (GIC), hinges on the success of denuclearisation the peninsula.
The summit’s success with regards to denuclearisation of the peninsula will also influence the success of the upcoming May meeting of Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. Although the US Secretary of State and CIA Director, Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang indicates a favourable outcome, as of last week President Trump had reiterated that nothing short of denuclearisation will sustain US interest in the summit. It remains to be seen what North Korea’s demands will be in exchange for its complete denuclearisation. Moreover, the summit should endeavor to elicit from North Korea clear-cut commitment on denuclearization and establish a system of accountability and monitoring of the process.
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