Observations we can all glean from Panmunjom Declaration

By Jin Kai Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/28 11:14:06

"Peace, prosperity and unification" are the three main catchwords noted in the short but historic Panmunjom Declaration signed on April 27 between North Korea and South Korea: two nations that have been hostile enemies over the past decades, two blood-tied brothers that have diverged yet share so much, but now probably two bonded stakeholders that vow to realize mutual reconciliation and build perpetual peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Before the conclusion of the declaration, both leaders spent a friendly, leisurely and sincere time together, and there was even improvisation. For example, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to cross the border between the two countries and, together, they stepped into North Korea's territory. Afterward, Moon suggested taking a group photo before the in-house talks commenced. Both events were actually unplanned.

The specific clauses of the declaration may tell us even more about the current and near-future situation of the inter-Korean relationship.

Above all, both sides affirmed "the principle of determining the destiny of each Korean nation on their own." This reminds us of the dark cloud that has been lingering over the Korean Peninsula for over 100 years. And over the past year, the North has been struggling to guarantee the survival of its regime and maintain its dignity, particularly as a result of external sanctions, while the South has been scrambling to find its own pride as a self-dependent "middle power" that can survive the long-existing and competing great powers in the region. If there is something emotional and intangible that may help to bring some chemistry between the two leaders and two brother nations, historical empathy would probably be the catalyst.

There are of course some substantive clauses in the declaration. For example, it was noted that a joint liaison office with resident representatives of both sides will be set up in Kaeseong, a city in North Korea. It was also noted that there is mutual consent to cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain and that the two sides will convene the first military talks at the rank of general in May. Finally, President Moon agreed to visit Pyongyang this fall, with experts forecasting that these commitments will be realized in no time.

Other strategic matters could be time-consuming. The declaration also vows to "bring an end to the current unnatural state of armistice and establish a robust peace regime." This issue, however, has never been an inter-Korean matter. Thus a suggestion on "trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the US, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the US and China" was made by both sides in the declaration. Interestingly, the use of the word "or" could have been placed carefully and could have been a delicate choice, which indicates the strategic calculations by both sides in respect to the two leaders' understandings of China's role in the overall peace process.

As for the core issue of denuclearization, the declaration symbolically claims the common goal of realizing, through the notion of complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but obviously without any specific details on when, what approach, to what degree and at what price. This is understandable, as those are the core issues to be put on the table between Kim and US President Donald Trump.

This week's meeting was the third summit between the North and the South since the beginning of the new millennium. The previous two summits were held in 2000 and 2007. As Moon implied in his talks with Kim, there has been no progress over the past 11 years since the last summit. But Moon himself does indeed want to make a change, just as much as Kim does. This of course is only the beginning of the first round of reconciliation and peace processes on the Korean Peninsula. 

The meeting and the concluded declaration by nature are major steps for the two Koreas. By hosting this historic summit and in respect to the upcoming US-North Korea summit, Moon's message to Trump is clear: I did what I can, and brought Kim to the table. Now it's your turn to cut a deal so please don't ruin it.

The author is an assistant research fellow with Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


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