Pyongyang joint declaration a landmark in inter-Korean ties

By Zhao Lixin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/20 19:38:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The third summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in was held as scheduled on Tuesday. Moon, the third South Korean leader to visit Pyongyang, and his wife were warmly welcomed by the people of the North and given the highest-level reception by Kim. From Panmunjom to Pyongyang, the three hugs between Moon and Kim, which were natural and intimate, have served as the "lubricant of national reconciliation."

Every detail of the third summit, from the convertible black limousine the two leaders boarded to the noodles they ate together, have been reported and interpreted by the media. What came as a surprise was the absence of South Korean flags. North Koreans welcoming Moon only waved the unification flag and the North Korea flag. Besides, on the occasions that the two leaders signed the joint declaration on Wednesday and held a joint press conference, the flags of the two countries were missing.

Some interpreted it as a sign of Kim's intention to show North Korea's dominant role in North-South relations. But a bigger possibility is that both sides are unwilling to show the reality and pain of division to the world again.

What happened in Pyongyang during the third inter-Korean summit is intriguing. But it seems that leaders of both sides are determined to bring the détente on the Korean Peninsula to a climax on the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival, an occasion signifying completeness and reunion.

North and South Korea declared that the Pyongyang joint declaration would take bilateral relations to a new height and will be a milestone in national reconciliation and cooperation.

Many media reports said the most important achievement of the joint declaration is that the countries have reached a deal over denuclearization. However, the document has limitations and there is still confusion over denuclearization of the peninsula. 

As the joint declaration stated, the two sides "agreed to expand the cessation of military hostility," "hold a ground-breaking ceremony within this year for the east-coast and west-coast rail and road connections," discuss economic cooperation, and "strengthen cooperation in the areas of prevention of epidemics, public health and medical care." These are reaffirmations and a continuation of the October 4 joint declaration signed during the inter-Korean summit in 2007. In terms of separated families, it only said the issue needs to be fundamentally resolved, without mentioning the details.

But the latest declaration showed some progress. Amid UN sanctions and increasing US pressure on North Korea, economic and security collaboration between the North and South will be restrained. But Pyongyang's plan to send an art troupe to Seoul in October, their bid to jointly host the 2032 Summer Olympics and the upcoming joint commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement Day, will not face hurdles.

Cultural, sports and other activities such as jointly commemorating historical events can reduce and gradually eliminate the psychological distance between the two sides. It will not bring economic benefits, but is undoubtedly a wise move in the long run to promote Koreas' reconciliation and create conditions for reunification.

But when it comes to denuclearization, the declaration said, "North Korea expressed intent to take further steps, including permanently dismantling the Yongbyon nuclear facility, if the United States takes corresponding steps in line with the spirit of the June 12th joint statement." The wording appears to be unilateral stance of North Korea. It could mean Seoul, which is a mediator between Washington and Pyongyang, failed to fully persuade North Korea on denuclearization. It could also be that Seoul is publicly expressing its differences with Washington on the denuclearization approach.

For the moment, the question is, if Moon cannot persuade US President Donald Trump to accept North Korea's plan to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, what would Trump and Kim talk about during their second summit, which would likely take place in October. If the US is not satisfied with the progress of North Korea's denuclearization, it is likely to obstruct South Korea's plans and measures.

But one thing is sure, the story about Pyongyang will continue.

The author is professor and director of the School of International Politics, Institute of Politics and Public Management, Yanbian University.


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