GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 511, 2 May 2021

Three years after inter-Korean talks
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 27 April, South Korea and North Korea marked three years of the inter-Korean summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. For the first time in three years, the South Korean government did not hold an official event to celebrate the anniversary of the first summit. The Unification Ministry cited COVID-19 as the reason for not allowing an official ceremony. 

On 29 April, the Unification Minister emphasized the significance of the South Korea-US summit to revive talks with North Korea on the stalled peace process. 

What is the background?
First, failed promises of the 2018 summit. The Panmunjom Declaration was the first document signed by the two leaders and the first meeting held in 11 years. Both countries pledged to the efforts of complete denuclearization, work towards reunification and officially bringing an end to the Korean war of 1950-53. However, it has been three years since the first meeting, and the delegations have met thrice, but the objectives of the summit are far from being achieved. 

Second, reasons for the failure of talks. The obstacles in achieving the goals of the Panmunjom Declaration is directly related to the deadlock in nuclear diplomacy. Even though North Korea agreed to denuclearization three years ago, the country continued developing and maintaining its nuclear facilities after the failure of talks with the US in Hanoi in 2019. Kim Jong-un revealed in the 8th Party Congress that denuclearization would not be an agenda for discussion in any talks with the US or any other country. 
Another issue is the differential idea of denuclearization. When the US pushes for complete denuclearization, it refers to a complete dismantling of nuclear facilities, regular inspections of nuclear sites and re-entering the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While this was being considered initially, the term for North Korea meant that the US would remove all nuclear warheads and protection from South Korea and Japan. This continues to be an area of contention as the US cannot withdraw its policy of protection from the Korean Peninsula. 

Third, the threat posed by North Korea. North Korea's nuclear plans pose a threat to countries like South Korea, Japan and the US. The atmosphere of mistrust is created partly due to North Korea's incessant missile tests that land miles away from these territories and the country's lack of flexibility in matters of diplomacy. Despite multiple civil society initiatives undertaken by the South Korean government and the people, the relationship between the two countries has become substantially colder. The Moon Jae-in government adopted a softer approach towards North Korea and even introduced an Anti-Pyongyang leaflet ban. Nevertheless, North Korea's stance on inter-Korean relations remains unchanged. 

What does this mean?
The major issue that keeps the countries from cooperating with each other is trust. Yet, when the problem involves nuclear missiles, one cannot help but be suspicious of all players in the game. 

The Korean war has failed to come to an end due to the lack of a ceasefire which means that the two countries are essentially at war. The goals of reunification seem unrealistic as neither country portrays actions that speak of such a goal. Moreover, the only kind of reunification that is feasible in the country is the peaceful co-existence of the two Koreas, separate from each other's values and cultures which have drifted apart in the past decades.