More care, less haste
*The author is a columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The producer of the recent spectacle of peace, broadcast live to the world from the truce village of Panmunjom, was Im Jong-seok. He made the best use of his titles — presidential chief of staff and chairman of the preparation committee for the historic inter-Korean summit. He kept a very natural flow for the April 27, 2018 summit, while helping the two main players — leaders of the two Koreas — demonstrate their larger-than-life presence in Panmunjom. The greatest credit for the Korean spring goes to Im. President Moon Jae-in and North Korean State Affairs Commission Chairman Kim Jong-un also excited the world with their surprising and unconventional behavior, sense of humor and usage of great metaphors.
If you view the Panmunjom Declaration from the perspective of the outcome of an extremely difficult negotiation by the leaders of the two Koreas, the evaluation can be a little different. From my point of view, the declaration has three main issues.
The first is the term “complete denuclearization,” which actually occurs near the end of the statement. The declaration did not offer any specific scope or timeline of methods for the so-called complete denuclearization. The Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement from the six-party talks, issued during the presidency of Roh Moo-hyun, said, “The six parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the six-party talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [North Korea] is committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date to the treaty on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons [NPT] and to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.”
Second, the Panmunjom Declaration said, “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 regimen.” That is nearly the same as the Oct. 4, 2007 joint declaration from the inter-Korean summit between then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Although Kim Jong-un took a more dangerous step by declaring that the North had mastered nuclear arms technology, the Panmunjom Declaration failed to go beyond the past agreement. This is a lack of creativity and progress.
Third, the Panmunjom Declaration said the two Koreas agreed to end “broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets, in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line.” As of now, South Korea is overwhelming the North with psychological warfare, and yet the agreement is a promise to disarm voluntarily. The reality of the confrontation at the demilitarized zone is not something you remember from the movies. The unilateral concession of hostilities will threaten the lives and safety of our young soldiers.
Im was the key planner of the inter-Korean summit. His remarks were the only ones made public among the four aides who accompanied Moon to the meeting. “If you want to cross a river covered with thin ice, you have to be quick,” Im said, sitting next to Moon, to emphasize the importance of speed. He probably thinks no time should be allowed to rightists at home to intervene in the miraculous restoring of inter-Korean ties.
He must know that inter-Korean relations, no matter what progress there is, will crumble unless we achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the North.
When the centrists and conservatives turn against him, Moon’s leadership will go down the drain. Unless you are going on a possibly suicidal adventure, thin ice is not meant to be crossed quickly. There could be mass casualties as a result of such haste. A wise leader will pause in front of thin ice for a while. He will try to find the right time.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 30, Page 30