In historic scenes on Friday 27 April 2018, President Moon Jae-In of South Korea and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea met at the beginning of the third-ever inter-Korean summit.
A joint statement of agreement was released, including but not limited to, working towards the ‘denuclearisation’ of the Korean Peninsula. While the full text of the agreement is available here, this article assesses the agreement’s implications.
Article 1 preface: ‘South and North Korea will reconnect the blood relations of the people…’
This opening line sets out as a high priority of both parties to facilitate more frequent family reunions between families split following the Korean War (1950-53). This has been a previous area of relative cooperation between them, even during conservative hardliner President Park Guen-hye’s tenure as head of state of South Korea.
Further detail is later added. The Inter-Korean Red Cross Meeting will reconvene to ‘discuss and solve various issues, including the reunion of separated families’ and there’s a pledge to proceed with reunion programmes for separated families on the National Liberation Day of August 15 this year.
National Liberation Day is a holiday in both North and South Korea, commemorating victory over Japan during the Second World War.
Article 1, Clause 4: ‘South and North Korea agreed to encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity.’
This captures the spirit of reconciliation and hope of a ‘United Korea’, where in an unspecified point in time, they were embodied at the Winter Olympics in February. Both nations successfully negotiated entering the opening and closing ceremonies under a unified flag, while a Unified Korea women’s hockey team was fielded also. Unsurprisingly, the clause later specifically cites cooperation at future international sporting events as something to work towards, mentioning the forthcoming Asian Games in Indonesia.
Prior to President Moon and Kim’s meeting, artistic exchanges occurred between the two nations, including the visit of South Korean K-pop artists to North Korea on 1st April. Their concert was notable for being the first time that a North Korean leader had attended a South Korean performance in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.
Article 2, Clause 1: ‘South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other… In this vein, the two sides agreed to transform the demilitarised zone into a peace zone in a genuine sense by ceasing as of May 2 this year all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets, in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line.’
This placed an early test within a week of the agreement’s declaration of each side’s intent in peace talks. Both sides have previously used loudspeakers to blare out propaganda messages.
By all accounts, both North and South Korea have passed this test as military personnel either side of the border appear to have been dismantling the loudspeakers. The South has also asked private organisations to stop sending leaflets to North Korea.
Article 3, Clause 3: ‘During this year that marks the 65th anniversary of the Armistice, South and North Korea agreed to actively pursue trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or quadrilateral meetings involving the two Koreas, the United States and China, with a view to declaring an end to the war and establishing a permanent and solid peace regime.’
Open military conflict between North and South ceased in 1953. However, only a ceasefire has been in existence since, meaning the nations have technically been at war with each other for 68 years. Reaching a peace treaty would be heavy in symbolism.
The USA’s and China’s possible inclusion in these talks may be more a means to keep each country’s closest political allies in the loop, than reflecting the USA’s and China’s part in the Korean War. After all, more than 100,000 British military personnel saw active service in the war with over 1,000 British soldiers killed. Yet, this clause sees no role for the UK in transforming the ceasefire into a peace treaty.
It should also be noted that a similar promise of working towards a peace treaty was made at the last inter-Korean summit in 2007. Clearly, nothing came to fruition then.
Article 3, Clause 4: ‘South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realising, through complete denuclearisation, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
South and North Korea shared the view that the measures being initiated by North Korea are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula…’
This clause seemingly gives most grounds for optimism for peace between North and South. However, this clause is not an agreement to denuclearise, but agreement to engage in talks to denuclearise. Therefore, the clause merely states what we already know: that North and South Korea are in talks, with denuclearisation a key topic area.
Existing measures taken by North Korea in regards to denuclearisation being termed as ‘very meaningful and crucial’ both refers to Kim’s suspension of all nuclear tests and hints at the difficulty in reaching this mostly preliminary agreement.
The clause later refers to each party carrying out ‘their respective roles and responsibilities’ with regards to denuclearisation. It may be posited that there’s an underlying assumption here on North Korea’s part of the required reciprocal removal by South Korea of THAAD, the US-installed South Korean defence missile system, for North Korea to destroy what nuclear capabilities it currently has.
Last line of agreement: ‘In this context, President Moon Jae In agreed to visit Pyongyang this fall.’
In February, Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, personally delivered a handwritten letter of invitation to President Moon to come to Pyongyang. The line indicates President Moon’s devotion of political capital in the outcome of the talks and, along with the planned Trump-Kim meeting, helps Kim claim North Korea is being treated equally. The length of time before this meeting sets up the expectation of further progress being made by then to announce.