The Day Moon and Kim Met
By Won Jong-il [ISC, member]
On April 27, 2018, a historic event took place at Panmunjom when South and North Korean leaders met. They shook hands smiling at each other. North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un had crossed to the South. Then, holding hands with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, they crossed the 5cm demarcation line to North Korea then stepped back to the South. During the one day event, the leaders shared many conversations, ate Pyongyang Naeng-myeon and watched performances prepared by the South Korean government.
It was the first time North Korea’s leader crossed to the southern side of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). For 11 years, the tensions between South and North had been escalating. Yet, right before South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the North’s hostile attitude towards the South shifted to being amicable. In the historic Panmunjom inter-Korean summit, the North confirmed it would denuclearize.
Even before the Moon administration, various attempts to mend relations with North Korea had taken place paving the path to the Panmunjom declaration between Moon and Kim.
In 1972, South and North Korea signed the July 4 Joint Statement. Both parties established reunification would be achieved: free from intervention by external forces; peacefully; with respect for the different ideologies and political systems. In 1991, the December 13 joint testament once again reaffirmed these three principles. That same month, both Koreas signed a joint declaration for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Denuclearization was mentioned for the first time between both Koreas. However, the political fallout from the sudden death of North Korea’s leader, Kim, Il-sung prevented its implementation.
On June 13, 2000 South Korea’s president visited Pyongyang and met North Korean leader face-to-face for the first time and had a summit talks. On June 15, the two leaders adopted the historic June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. Once again, the declaration reaffirmed the three principles of reunification and resulted in the exchange of visits by separated family members and relatives and the release of political prisoners. The most significant improvement was economic cooperation to build the Gaeseong Complex, just north of the DMZ. On Oct 4, 2007 South Korea’s president Roh, Moo-hyun visited the North and reaffirmed the Jun 15. Joint Declaration.
Despite the various declarations and efforts by both sides to improve relations, tensions between both sides heightened when South Korea’s conservative party seized power in the South from 2008 to 2016. Even after the change of government to the liberals in 2017 after the impeachment of corrupt President Park, it seemed relation between both sides would not resolve so easily.
However, the recent Inter-Korean Summit suggests signs of relieving the conflict between them. While rooted in a historical trajectory for peace, the Panmunjom declaration differs from past inter-Korean summits in that the summit was open not only to the people of the South but also those of the North and globally. North Korea actually showed the world it is a normal country. Furthermore, unlike the historic 2000 declaration, North Korea declared its willingness to denuclearize and a peace treaty ending the Korean War was mentioned for the first time.
For 11 years, Koreans suffered from the threat of an unending Korean War. While the inter-Korean Summit inspired us to once again dare hope for peaceful reunification, we should not forget reunification and the peace treaty hang on the will of the U.S.
On June 12 North-U.S. Summit will be held in Singapore. May both Koreas persuade the U.S. to help bring down the barriers to the peace on the Korean Peninsula.