Another Oct. 4 Declaration?
*The author, a former minister at the Korean Embassy in the United Kingdom, is a former visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.
The third inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom on Friday was a success as a diplomatic event that offered a wide array of attractions. But there are problems behind the glaring diplomatic success.
President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un posed for the press while crossing over the Military Demarcation Line together, reviewed the colorful honor guards, planted a pine tree grown in 1953 and held one-on-one talks at a pedestrian bridge built over marshes. A fancy dinner was served with colorful performances, and a feast of light and sound unfolded outdoors as a farewell event. However, the outcome of the talks is relatively small compared to its striking appearance.
First, the lack of progress in the denuclearization talks, the main goal of the meeting, will likely be considered a diplomatic failure.
Among the 13 points of the declaration, denuclearization issues are contained in three sentences at the end of the agreement. It is less than 10 percent of the total. In terms of content, no progress is made from the North’s denuclearization pledge conveyed to the South Korean special envoy during their visit to Pyongyang last month. North Korea experts agree that the specific measures related to the dismantlement likely were left for the North Korea-U.S. summit.
Second, praising the North’s announcement on April 20 to halt its nuclear and missile tests as the North’s initiative means that the South acknowledges the North as a nuclear power.
North Korea celebrated its success in developing nuclear weapons during a plenary session of the Workers’ Party on April 20, saying that it successfully conducted a scientific project to develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and that it no longer needs any nuclear tests, mid- to long-range missile tests or intercontinental ballistic missiles. And it added that the nuclear test site in the northern part of the country also ended its mission.
It means the North no longer needs to conduct nuclear or missile tests, since nuclear and missile development has been successfully completed. Nevertheless, the declaration praises the North’s bragging as “a start” and “a very significant step towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Third, the aspirations and expectations of South Korean people for the success of the summit are not as strong and high as the Moon Jae-in government has expected. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Unification before the summit, only 17.8 percent of the public expected a big success and 41 percent showed affirmative response to the talks. Meanwhile, 41 percent said they do not expect any success. Considering vigorous publicity activities during and after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics — such as the visits of North Korean athletes, art groups and cheering squad to the south, and the exchange visits of special envoys of the South and the North, especially the North Korean leader’s younger sister Kim Yo-jung — the summit carefully choreographed by President Moon has failed to attract enough support from the public.
The reason is that many people consider the North Korean leader’s denuclearization pledge to be devoid of sincerity, and consider the declaration a rehashing of the 2007 inter-Korean summit agreement, the Oct. 4 declaration. The public remembers that the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 and the second one in 2007 ended up with nothing, although they were held amid national expectations and cheers.
The Moon Jae-in government takes the agreements reached by the first and second inter-Korean summits as the foundation for its North Korea policy, and the administration respects and tries to build upon them. Thus, the framework of the declaration is also in line with the Oct. 4 declaration. In particular, the questions on easing military tensions and establishing a peace regime are similar to the Oct. 4 declaration. While the Oct. 4 declaration states that the six-party talks should be tasked with resolving the nuclear issue, the Panmunjom Declaration simply states that the two Koreas will make efforts together, without specifying the specifics, to resolve the denuclearization issue.
Fourth, opposition lawmakers, North Korea experts and North Korean defectors claim that human rights issues should be discussed first at the summit, and conservatives also oppose the idea of negotiating with human rights violators. It was the Kim family, not the North Korean people, who failed to implement the inter-Korean agreements and declarations, said one North Korean defector. Rep. Kim Young-woo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party said, “Right now, North Koreans’ human rights are suppressed by the regime itself. Nevertheless, the Moon Jae-in government meets with Kim Jong-un and his aides and talks about the peace and prosperity of North Korea.”
The task of disarming North Korea’s nuclear weapons for the peace and prosperity of the world is now handed over to President Trump of the United States. After a telephone conversation between Moon Jae-in and Trump over the weekend, the White House said, “The two leaders emphasized that a peaceful and prosperous future for North Korea is contingent upon its complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.” Eventually, North Korea will discard its nuclear programs, since President Trump continues to apply “maximum pressure” on the North until it agrees to complete denuclearization. Ultimately, the North Korean nuclear issue will be resolved when Kim Jong-un makes the right decision to keep his regime intact. It is an imperative, in the meantime, that the dovish Moon Jae-in government, together with comrades in Beijing, do not ease sanctions on the North quietly.