By Anuraag Srivastava
There has been a whirlwind of changes that have taken place in the Korean peninsula since the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. On March 5th, South Korean Delegation agreed to hold an Inter-Korean Summit at Inter-Korean Peace House in Panmunjom, a tiny village just north of the Korean border. The meeting is expected to take place in April end. Following the announcement, the South Korean delegation has been on a round of diplomatic briefings regarding the summit with United States, China, Russia, and Japan. Trump administration has agreed to hold its own summit with North Korea that is expected to be in May. If the summit is successful, it could be an unprecedented turn in the Korean political climate. But what is the summit really about?
The summit is expected to happen in the backdrop of massive nuclear testing conducted by North Korea in the last couple of years. Tensions have increased substantially since President Trump took charge of the US administration. This massive buildup of nuclear weapons has substantially increased North Korea’s capability since the last two Inter-Korean Summits in 2000 and 2007. Thus, denuclearisation of the peninsula is the most crucial item in the list of agendas for the summit. South Korean Blue House Chief of Staff Im Jong-Seok stated that the denuclearisation issue remains the primary issue that will be discussed in the summit and North Korea considers it a fundamental issue too. Denuclearization is just not an inter-Korean issue. It is also a primary issue between North Korea and the USA. It is the first time an American leader is set to meet a North Korean leader over a summit. Although there has been no formal announcement from the North Korean side, the American administration believes that the summit is, in fact, taking place. This was confirmed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she told reporters that North Korea has made several promises and hence if the promises are kept, the meeting will take place. However, it is the Inter-Korean summit that is going to inform the USA-North Korea summit’s discussion on the issue of denuclearisation. It is worthwhile to note that North Korea also considers this issue a primary one. This indicates its seriousness regarding the summit and subsequent resolution of the issue.
The second important agenda is the establishment of peace which includes the ground-breaking relaxation of military threat. The reason this agenda gains significance is that any progress on denuclearisation is dependent on the peacebuilding efforts that both the nations engage in. Previous efforts on peace-building were rooted in the dialogue between North Korea and the USA. However, this time by adopting an agenda on peaceful coexistence, the idea is being institutionalised in the Inter-Korean Summit itself. This is important as Kim Jong-un remains concerned about the North’s security situation and has sought guarantees to pave the way for denuclearisation.
The third agenda is working on the inter-Korean relations. If the progress is made on the issue of denuclearisation, there is an enormous possibility of sanctions being lifted off North Korea which would pave the way for greater economic engagement. This engagement is solely dependent on how fast the resolution of the fundamental issues is achieved. The early signs seem to be positive. A communication hotline is being set up between the two Koreas and the summit is already set to take place. The declaration of ending the Korean War which has been put on temporarily put on hold as per international law should be one of the key outcomes of the summit.
How did the world react?
It is clear that there are many stakeholders in the process. South Korea has ensured that it starts engaging in diplomatic meetings with all the key players involved as soon as the offer of the Inter-Korean summit was accepted. Apart from its visit to the USA, the South Korean delegation also visited China. President Xi Jinping also had a dialogue with President Trump and showed appreciation on the steps being taken for the peace in the region. The White House has also given position signals to the development and believes that North Korea will keep its promise of not indulging in ICBM and nuclear tests. Russian Foreign Minister also indicated that it is a step in the right direction and that outcomes of this entire dialogue will be dependent on US-North Korea summit. The South Korean delegation also met their Japanese counterpart to brief about the situation. Japan expressed caution and the government stated that it needs to be seen what steps North Korea will take to facilitate the entire process.
The new way to think about both Koreas
A joint effort at coming with a framework for the future engagement and relations between the two nations should be prioritised if real progress is made with the denuclearisation process. North Korea’s action is being seen as a departure from its usual hard-line stance. A lot will depend on the actual results that come out of this process. Patience is key here, and it would be in international community’s best interest if all the parties to this process maintain calm and refrain from engaging in a vitriolic attack. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has the potential to change the dynamics of Asia for the better.
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