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The Historic Kim-Moon Summit

30 April 2018

By Mascha Peters, Associate Fellow, EU-Asia Centre

The third inter-Korean summit, the first in over ten years, took place on 27 April 2018 at the Peace House in Panmunjom. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un, met with South Korea’s president Moon Jae-In in what was the first encounter of two Korean heads of state on South Korean territory. The historic meeting has been described as a success by all the main players, including Trump. Both sides committed themselves to the establishment of a solid peace regime on the peninsula and complete denuclearization.

The “Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula” which was released at the end of the summit, starts out with the promise “before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there will be no more war on the Korean peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun”. Ending the armistice agreement of 1953 by signing a peace treaty, a step which will require the support of the United States and China as signatories of the armistice, would be a crucial step towards normalization of relations not just between the two Koreas but also between Pyongyang and Washington. The regime in the North has stated repeatedly that a security guarantee would make the possession of nuclear weapons dispensable, lastly during Kim’s visit to Beijing at the end of March.

In order to pave the way to a “permanent and solid peace regime” the joint statement stipulates concrete provisions like the establishment of a joint liaison office in Kaesong in order to facilitate close consultations and civilian exchanges. To prevent accidental military clashes on the sea, a frequent cause for escalation between North and South in the past, the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea are to be turned into a maritime peace zone. As of May 1 both sides agree “to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain”.

It comes as a positive surprise that the declaration not only includes humanitarian issues but stipulates a concrete date for the resumption of family reunions between the North and the South which are to take place on 15 August, the day on which both Koreas celebrate their liberation from Japanese colonial rule. As the cherry on the cake a visit by South Korean president Moon Jae-In to Pyongyang in fall this year is announced at the very end of the declaration.

The affirmative tone set in the inter-Korean summit bodes well for the Kim-Trump summit that is to take place in late May or early June at a venue yet to be determined but probably in either Singapore or Ulan Bator. Kim will have to substantiate his part of the Panmunjom Declaration as to how complete Pyongyang is willing to denuclearize. Yet what distinguishes this summit from the last two might lead to a different outcome, too: North Korea has officially declared to be a nuclear power. This position not only takes Kim on alleged eye-level with Trump but also strengthens his stance at the home front, where nuclear power serves as the guarantor for survival. Following the logic of North Korea’s Byungjin strategy (parallel advancement of nuclear forces and economy) it is now legitimate for the regime to pursue economic development by means of negotiating with the class enemy.

Another difference to the circumstances of 2000 and 2007 is the unprecedented UNSC sanction regime that has been imposed on the North, notably with the support of China. It is widely believed that the scope of the sanctions, the most restrictive regime the EU is currently imposing, has had a significant impact on the North Korean economy, prompting Kim to engage in rapprochement. In a statement, HR/VP Mogherini said the European Union was ready to lend its full support to the recent developments on the Korean peninsula, emphasizing that full denuclearization must include North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes and be complete, verifiable and irreversible.

Japan and China responded with a cautious welcome to the declaration. All eyes are now on Trump and the upcoming summit with Kim. There are many critical voices in the US arguing that ‘we have seen it all before’ and the DPRK cannot be trusted. Trump and his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, seem well versed in the failure of the DPRK to implement previous agreements. There remains a long way to go before one can talk of real peace and denuclearisation in Korea.