The inter-Korean summit, which has begun in earnest, is geared towards ensuring a lasting peace in the Korean peninsula, charting a course for mutual economic advancement and expanding United States waning influence in the region. KINGSLEY OPURUM examines the possible outcomes of the summit.
History is made once again as the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in began his third summit with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un yesterday, which experts have seen as possibly his hardest mission to broker some kind of compromise to keep North Korea’s talks with Washington from imploding and pushing ahead with his own plans to expand economic cooperation and entrench a stable peace within the Korean Peninsula.
According to reports, Moon and Kim Jong-un met each other with hugs and smiles for the cameras, before travelling together in an open-top limousine to hold around two hours of formal talks.
The visit marks the first time a South Korean President has visited Pyongyang for more than a decade. It is the third set of talks between the two leaders since North Korea’s dramatic turn towards rapprochement with the South and the US earlier this year, which observers believe it is also the most important.
It suffices to say that intense pressure is on Moon, both at home and abroad, to produce a tangible commitment from Kim to denuclearise. Talks have stalled and the US is desperate to see some progress on the vague promises made at Kim’s Singapore summit with Donald Trump back in June, lest it become no more than a futile photo opportunity. Analysts believe that Moon also has his own agenda, seeing improved inter-Korean relations as an opportunity for business growth at a time when he is suffering all-time low approval ratings over South Korea’s faltering economy.
It has been reported that he travelled to Pyongyang accompanied by business tycoons including Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong. All major cross-border business projects are currently stalled because of US-led sanctions.
Today, Moon and Kim plan to hold a second round of official talks after which they are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Moon is expected to return home early Thursday. Pundits are of the opinion that the outcomes of the joint statement will be watched closely by Washington and Trump, who, according to Moon’s aides, has appointed the South Korean President as his “chief negotiator” in finding peace with the North. “If North Korea-US dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself,” Mr Moon said. North Korea has disclosed that it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site, and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests but US officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans covertly, adding that it must take more serious disarmament steps before receiving outside concessions. Trump has indicated that he may be open to holding another summit to resuscitate the talks and ensure that all the efforts do not prove abortive. As Moon arrived, the North’s main newspaper said the US was “totally to blame” for the lack of progress in denuclearisation talks, accusing Washington of “stubbornly insisting” the North unilaterally begin dismantling its nuclear weapons first and blocking attempts to declare a permanent peace between the two Koreas.
“The US is totally to blame for the deadlocked DPRK-US negotiations,” the Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial, using the initials of the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It said that Washington is “stubbornly insisting” that the North dismantle its nuclear weapons first, an approach “which was rejected in the past DPRK-U.S. dialogues,” while failing to show its will for confidence-building “including the declaration of the end of war which it had already pledged.”
The Korean War ended in 1953 with a ceasefire but no formal peace treaty. US officials remain “unenthusiastic” about declaring an end to the war without any substantial action towards denuclearisation from the North, Seoul officials told the Associated Press.
However, to keep expectations from getting too high, Moon’s chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, said it’s “difficult to have any optimistic outlook” for progress on denuclearization during the summit. But he said he still expects the summit to produce meaningful agreements.
Moon is said to be hoping the two issues can be addressed simultaneously in Wednesday’s joint statement. Anything less, observers fear that the White House’s patience for rounds of international summits over Korea will start to wear thin.
Public commentators believed that the nuclear issue was sure to cast a shadow over negotiations on joint projects. It would be recalled that before leaving Seoul, Moon vowed to push for “irreversible, permanent peace” and for better dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington.
“This summit would be very meaningful if it yielded a resumption of North Korea-US talks. It’s very important for South and North Korea to meet frequently, and we are turning to a phase where we can meet anytime we want,” Moon said.
While signaling his willingness to talk with Washington, observers have posited that Kim’s strategy has been to try to elbow the US away from Seoul so that the two Koreas can take the lead in deciding how to bring peace and stability to their peninsula.
North Korea maintains that it has developed its nuclear weapons to the point that it can now defend itself against a potential US attack, and can now shift its focus to economic development and improved ties with the South.
North Korea just completed an elaborate celebration replete with a military parade and huge rallies across the country to mark its 70th anniversary. China, signaling its support for Kim’s recent diplomatic moves, sent its third-highest party official to those festivities. Observers see such move as important because China is the North’s biggest economic partner and is an important political counterbalance to the United States.
Pundits believe that a noticeable progress has been registered in a bid to improve diplomatic relations between the South and the North, as South Korea recently opened a liaison office in the North’s city of Kaesong, near the Demilitarized Zone.
Another possible area of agreement could be on a formal statement on ending the Korean War, which was halted in 1953 by what was intended to be a temporary armistice. Military officials have discussed possibly disarming a jointly controlled area at the Koreas’ shared border village, removing front-line guard posts and halting hostile acts along their sea boundary.