It can be welcomed that the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which escalated due to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, have now eased through inter-Korean conciliation.
It is also positive that the inter-Korean summit offered a glimpse at the largely unknown real image of Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
The agreement between the two Koreas must be utilized fully for summit talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea scheduled to be held by early June and lead to concrete steps to denuclearize North Korea.
Keep the pressure on
South Korean President Moon Jae In and Kim held talks and signed the Panmunjom Declaration, which calls for peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula. Their meeting was the third inter-Korean summit and the first in about 10½ years.
Regarding the North Korean nuclear issue — the major focus — the declaration just confirmed the “common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” Kim also did not mention denuclearization when he made remarks to the press together with Moon.
It leaves much to be desired that the path toward the dismantlement of nuclear weapons and related facilities currently possessed by North Korea was not set out.
Kim recently announced a halt to nuclear tests and dismantle the nuclear test site. He seems to be waiting until the U.S.-North Korea summit to present further steps toward denuclearization.
There is no doubt that North Korea intends to weaken sanctions pressure through a charm offensive and dialogue, while keeping its nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang also appears to be aiming for rewards, such as an easing of sanctions and a guarantee of the existence of Kim’s regime, in return for incremental dismantlement. The international community must stay alert.
U.S. President Donald Trump has clearly said that denuclearization means North Korea “getting rid of their nukes.” The goal is to achieve “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization. It stands to reason that Trump stressed he will not repeat the mistakes of previous administrations and will maintain a policy of putting maximum pressure on Pyongyang.
Rewards should not be given before the nuclear arsenal is dismantled, nuclear substances are taken out from North Korea, and the International Atomic Energy Agency conducts thorough inspections.
Mike Pompeo, who held secret talks with Kim when he was director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, has finally been sworn in as secretary of state. He is set to prepare for the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit and take the lead in future negotiations about denuclearization. It is hoped he makes full preparations to do these tasks as soon as possible.
A mood of conciliation stood out at the inter-Korean summit.
Kim became the first top leader of North Korea to cross the military demarcation line and set foot in South Korea. Kim and Moon were also seen strolling together without anyone else.
The declaration stated that the North and South Korean leaders will hold regular meetings and that Moon will visit Pyongyang this autumn. They will also talk to each other via a hotline.
It was agreed that a liaison office will be set up, with officials of the two Koreas stationed there, in the Kaesong region of North Korea and that meetings between military authorities will be held. Compliance with mutual nonaggression has also been confirmed, but it should not be forgotten that the North has a history of breaking agreements and repeating armed provocations against the South.
It is concerning that the declaration refers to an end to the Korean War, which remains in a state of truce, and a shift from armistice to a “peace regime.” The declaration calls for actively pursuing trilateral meetings involving the two Koreas and the United States, or four-party talks involving China and those three countries.
Addressing a peace agreement, which can guarantee the existence of Kim’s regime, before a solution to the nuclear issue is ascertained could be described as putting the cart before the horse.
In connection to a shift toward a peace agreement, Pyongyang has also insisted in the past on the withdrawal of the U.S. forces stationed in the South.
A slapdash conclusion of a peace treaty could cause divisions between Japan, South Korea and the United States and threaten to disrupt stability in Northeast Asia. Trump should deal with this matter prudently.
Economic cooperation projects such as the connection of railways between the two Koreas can also not be overlooked. South Korea should not be allowed to open a hole in the international encirclement around the North.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed the North-South summit as “a positive move” and stressed that “Japan will closely collaborate with the United States and South Korea to work toward a comprehensive solution to the abduction, nuclear and missile issues.”
Boost Japan-U.S. ties
Tokyo and Washington need to assess the real intentions of Kim by analyzing his words and actions during the summit. Encouraging Trump to make an adequate policy judgment would be a pivotal role for Abe.
China will certainly welcome the North-South accord and try to show its presence in the negotiations on denuclearization. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is said to be planning a visit to North Korea following the planned Trump-Kim summit.
Caution is needed regarding the fact that voices calling for easing the sanctions against the North have already emerged in China.
It should be noted that China’s strengthening of sanctions greatly contributed to North Korea restraining its provocations and shifting to dialogue.
China must maintain its restrictions on supplying energy to the North and accepting North Korean workers.