[Op-ed] Cautious Step Towards a Peaceful Peninsula
2018 Inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom Peace House
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Until just a few days ago, North and South Korea had different time zones even though the two nations are basically part of one land. According to state media, North Korea turned its country’s clocks forward by 30 minutes beginning at 23:30 local time on Friday, a week after the inter-Korean summit. While the extra 30 minutes was originally a stand against “wicked Japanese imperialists,” the new time zone was seen by the press as “the first practical step” in speeding up unification.
After World War II ended, the Korean peninsula was divided into a communist North and a democratic South. As one of the few remaining communistic countries with closed borders, North Korea was always the isolated evil minion constantly developing nuclear weapons as its protection measure against the “threats of the outer world.” The news was constantly full of stories about how it had successfully launched a missile, or how it was making progress with its nuclear weapons as a response whenever the U.S., Japan, or any other country strongly criticized them or implemented sanctions against them. After several missile launches, it pushed the U.S. and South Korea to execute major war drills that involved three American aircraft carrier strike groups in a massive show of force, which only drew the anger of North Korea. Things only grew worse as the U.S. and North Korea blacklisted each other as terrorist countries, and the rogue nation launched a ballistic missile that gave cause for more sanctions by other countries. Later on, even China presented a united front with South Korea over the North Korean standoff.
After the North’s missile launches and its sixth nuclear test, the relations between North and South Korea were already at their lowest level, which put many around the world in fear of a possible outbreak of war. There were numerous pranks on Youtube about how North Korea had launched nuclear missiles headed towards the U.S.; the fact that many believed them showed how aware they were of the tensions and how much they feared the instability. Even the countless sanctions pushed forward by countries around the world seemed futile at this point. This was a serious matter, as the outbreak of war in the Far East involving both of the Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. could only mean a World War III. Luckily, this downhill road changed its course as the North started to show interest in peaceful talks.
4.27 Inter-Korean summit
The summit took place after the two sides held several meetings in preparation for joint attendance at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Surprisingly, the North initially brought forward the idea of holding peaceful talks which would even include the North Korean nuclear weapons program and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The historical moment for the two countries, after more than a decade, was held outside the Peace House at Panmunjom. The meeting started out with Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands over the demarcation line, which was broadcasted live.
After a full day of sharing Korean traditional dishes, conducting ceremonies such as the tree-planting ceremony which used soil and water from both sides, and marching with the South Korean military honor guard, the summit came to a peaceful end with several positive outcomes. These were all stated in the Panmunjom Declaration signed happily by both countries including commitments to “a nuclear-free Korean peninsula,” an end to “hostile activities” between the two countries, the changing of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) into a “peace zone,” the cessation of propaganda broadcasts, arms reduction in the region pending the easing of military tension, a push for four-way talks involving the U.S. and China aimed at turning the armistice that ended the Korean war into a peace treaty, the reunion of families that were divided by the war, and further joint participation in sporting events including this year’s Asian Games.
Whilst many may release a sigh of relief and look forward to a unified Korea with no more nuclear threats, some take a more cautious stance as to why Kim even agreed to hold a summit in the first place. One of several reasons why Kim may have opened up is the sanctions that acted as a new reality check. According to data, North Korea’s economy has been taking a hit from the sanctions as its exports declined by 30-35% last year. China played a major role in this as it is North Korea’s biggest trading partner. Another critical view of the summit was that while the meeting was encouraging, the long history of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons should quell any over-optimistic about the situation.
It is true that Kim’s interest in holding peace summits and being open to and gladly signing a treaty that is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula despite the unresolved issue of the presence of American troops, do seem rather abrupt. This is especially true since the Panmunjom Declaration did not specify what Kim expected in return for abandoning his nuclear weapons, which were supposed to be the North’s best deterrent against the “hostile U.S.” Thus, this huge step towards a peaceful Peninsula definitely seems a bit confusing. Was it simply because past South Korean presidents were bad at negotiating? Is it because Moon is exceptionally open and inviting? Is it really because Kim felt the threat of a failing economy and a failing regime? Whatever the true intentions behind Kim’s sudden change in stance is, the 2018 inter-Korean summit and the Panmunjom Declaration definitely left a mark on history as a starting point for peace, with all eyes from around the world watching it full of hope.
Park Joo-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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