Wed, May 02, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Lessons of Korean peace process

By Ben Goren

On Friday last week, a historic moment in international diplomacy saw a potential breakthrough, heralding a possible end to the 65-year Cold War that has divided the Korean Peninsula.

While the world was focused on the tail end of French President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to the US, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met at the Peace House in Panmunjom for an inter-Korean summit, resulting in the Panmunjom Declaration.

It was the third inter-Korean summit after the first in 2000 between then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, and the second in 2007 between then-South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il.

This time around, a small piece of symbolic history was made in that it was the first time a North Korean leader had technically stepped foot on South Korean territory since 1953.

The resulting declaration agreed on the following: a North-South Liaison Office is to be established in Kaesong, North Korea; that separated families are to meet in August; that cross-border rail and roads are to be linked; a cessation of all hostile acts on land, air and sea; peace in the Yellow Sea (West Sea), thereby allowing civilian fishing from both sides; a phased reduction of military forces; a peace treaty to be signed this year; that both sides would work toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula; and that Moon is to visit Pyongyang this fall.

While it is still very early to claim a substantive and lasting breakthrough, this summit does mark a hugely significant breakthrough in one of East Asia’s most intractable confrontations.

While Moon, Kim Jong-un and his sister, Kim Yo-song, should be credited with this achievement, the stage for this summit was set primarily by the student and other protesters in South Korea, who successfully applied pressure to have former South Korean president Park Geun-hye impeached for abuse of power and coercion.

Park, the daughter of assassinated South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, was a legacy of a reactionary and hawkish conservative South Korean elite that had dominated South Korean politics since the end of the war.

Her removal and public outrage at her tarnishing of the office of the presidency led directly to the successful election of Moon, a former student activist, human rights lawyer and chief presidential secretary to Roh.

Moon, of the Democratic Party, known for being less accommodating to US influence on the South Korean government’s policies toward North Korea than his predecessor, helped facilitate the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games in which North Korean athletes participated, to much derision, intrigue and fanfare in international media.

At the Games we saw Kim Yo-song, apparently on secondment from her brother as a diplomatic envoy, use the occasion to engage in quiet diplomacy, which it seems laid much of the groundwork for the Panmunjom summit.

Above all, this appears to have been a solely Korean-managed event, sidelining both China and the US.

Although Kim Jong-un recently made his first official state visit to China, the somewhat strained interaction between himself and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), while cordial, belied the longstanding impression that Pyongyang and Beijing were steadfast allies working hand in glove to stymie US and Western interests in the region.

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