A meaningful first step

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A meaningful first step

The Korean Peninsula took a meaningful first step toward complete denuclearization. President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held an inter-Korean summit at Peace House on the southern side of Panmunjom, the symbol of the two Korea’s division, and confirmed that it is their “mutual goal to realize a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization.” They also agreed that the measures being taken by the North are significant for denuclearization and that they will work to win the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Their agreements were laid out in the Panmunjom Declaration. It is the first time that the two Koreas’ leaders have discussed the denuclearization issue as the core issue of a summit, the third of its kind. It is also the first time that the outcome has been stipulated in the agreement.

The Moon administration promoted the slogan “Peace, a new beginning,” and Kim signed the guest book with “A new history begins now.” As they said, the Korean Peninsula is facing a turning point. Around this time last year, concerns were high about a war on the Korean Peninsula. Just a few months ago, the leaders of the United States and North Korea were engaged in a contest over whose nuclear button was bigger and more powerful. Compared to that, the current situation is drastically different.

But it was also revealed that there is a long way to go before denuclearization. It was never made public what Kim’s idea of denuclearization is and how and when denuclearization will be accomplished. That is why the latest agreement is seen as just the starting point on a long journey toward denuclearization.

The Moon administration had said there are three topics on the agenda for the summit — complete denuclearization, the permanent establishment of peace and the drastic improvement of inter-Korean relations. The three issues are connected. Without progress in denuclearization, the peaceful improvement of inter-Korean relations is impossible. Therefore, the denuclearization issue is seen as the one issue that will decide the success or failure of the summit.

The declaration had three main agreements — improving inter-Korean relations, easing military tension and establishing peace. Denuclearization was included as part of the move for peace, and its importance was weakened.

Some say the agreement is unsatisfactory because a definite road map, including the method, subjects and timeline of denuclearization, was not laid out. But that seemed necessary because a shining moment of dramatic progress must have been saved for the upcoming North-U.S. summit.

“This is the beginning and the tip of the iceberg,” Kim said, and that is also a hint. He probably gave serious thought to what to concede to the United States and what could be marked as a success at the inter-Korean summit.

Various important agreements were made in areas other than denuclearization. First, many agreements were made to ease military tensions. They also agreed to substantial measures to make the waters near the western maritime border safer. They agreed to hold frequent military talks, including defense ministerial talks, and a general-level military meeting is scheduled for May.

In addition to denuclearization, the two leaders agreed to declare the end of the Korean War this year, the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement, and replace it with a peace treaty. They also agreed to strive to hold a trilateral summit with the United States or a four-way summit including China for the establishment of permanent peace. “There will be no war on the Korean Peninsula and a new era of peace will open,” the two leaders agreed. They also agreed to hold routine summits. Moon agreed to visit Pyongyang this autumn.

Because of the sanctions on the North, they did not address economic cooperation. But they still kept the momentum, because economic cooperation can begin when significant progress is made on denuclearization. They agreed to open a liaison office in Kaesong. When the office is open, the two Koreas will be able to have face-to-face talks all the time. Furthermore, they agreed to hold family reunions on the Aug. 15 Liberation Day.

The outcomes are not insignificant, but they cannot resolve the Korean people’s skepticism about the North’s genuineness. We wonder if it were truly impossible for Moon to persuade Kim to make a more progressive remark, such as a timeline.

We are making a strong demand for a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization because the North’s nuclear and missile abilities have advanced far more than in the past and are threatening us. Without addressing the denuclearization issue, no talks between the two Koreas can be meaningful.

A series of summits on denuclearization began with the Moon-Kim meeting. If it were a baseball game, we are in the top of the first inning. And it’s not a bad start.

Denuclearization is destined to regress unless we progress. Without progress, we are only buying time for the North. The government must keep the sanctions, which forced the North to the table, and maintain cooperation with the United States. The government must commit all of its effort, for this may well be the last chance.

JoongAng Sunday, April 28, Page 34
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