Making historyHistory has been made once again in the truce village of Panmunjom, with the leaders of the two Koreas and the United States standing side by side for the first time ever. President Donald Trump became the first sitting U.S. leader to step onto the northern side by walking over the demarcation line with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sunday. The two returned to the southern side to join South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The three — who made history by holding separate summit talks last year and this year — added another unprecedented scene with this historic three-way meeting. They sat down together in Panmunjom, where the United States and North Korea signed the armistice to end the Korea War in 1953. The handshake between the leaders of the United States and North Korea in the same location can promise a new era of peace.
Such a hurriedly arranged meeting naturally could not bring any dramatic breakthrough in bilateral relations or the denuclearization process. Still, the more the leaders meet, the greater the chances are for a positive outcome in the future. Mutual trust is built through constant contact and communication.
The Panmunjom meeting raises hope for the deadlocked denuclearization process. The Hanoi, Vietnam summit between Trump and Kim broke down because working-level negotiations had not been sufficient. Washington and Pyongyang have practically given up dialogue since the summit fell through. The three-way summit may give new traction to the process. Foreign news outlets reported that Trump has invited Kim to Washington.
Still there is skepticism about overly symbolic approaches to North Korea. Since dialogue started last year, North Korea has not relinquished a single nuclear weapon or missile. Some think Trump made the surprise proposal to meet Kim as a part of his re-election campaign. Kim may have said yes as a kind of face-saving move following the failure in Hanoi. To silence skeptics, the three leaders must makes some real progress.
It is not a pretty sight to see the United States and North Korea carrying out a peace process by leaving out South Korea. A director-level official at the North Korea foreign ministry last month was rude enough to advise Seoul to pay attention to its domestic problems. Seoul could be passed over by other global powers if it continues to get such mistreatment from Pyongyang.
Future actions will determine whether the Panmunjom meeting on June 30, 2019 was meaningful enough to go down in history as a turning point for denuclearization and peace on the Korea Peninsula. We hope it will.