South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong-un held talks on April 27 at Panmunjom, the truce village straddling the Military Demarcation Line where the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement was signed.
The two signed a joint statement called the Panmunjom Declaration at the close of the summit talks, in which they “confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
The leaders of the two Korea also agreed to forge ahead with negotiations to turn the 1953 armistice into a peace treaty and to declare an end to the Korean War by the end of the year.
While the inter-Korean summit was orchestrated to fully accentuate the image of reconciliation, as shown by such scenes as Moon and Kim walking hand in hand, it would be a terrible mistake to assume the Moon-Kim talks signify a major advance toward denuclearization of the North in real terms.
Continue to Apply Pressure on North Korea
Regarding the joint North-South declaration, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised it as “a forward-looking move,” but he did not forget to point out that Japan strongly hopes to see North Korea to “take concrete actions” toward denuclearization. This is only reasonable.
Kim’s behavior this time can hardly be said to have marked significant progress compared to the outcome of the Beijing-Pyongyang summit late in March. There is also nothing new in the reference to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in the summit of the Koreas. Cool heads will objectively note that the Panmunjom Declaration has fallen short of identifying any concrete measures toward the North abandoning its nuclear weapons.
In the latest Japan-United States summit in Florida April 17-18, Prime Minister Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump reconfirmed their policy of demanding that North Korea abandon all weapons of mass destruction—including nuclear, biological, and chemical arms—as well as all kinds of ballistic missiles. It is highly questionable whether the concept of denuclearization referred to in the joint declaration is compatible with this requirement.
Success or failure of the task of making North Korea give up its nuclear weapons, missiles, and other war potentials now hinges on a summit meeting between the United States and North Korea scheduled to take place by early June.
The Moon-Kim talks this time indicate the great significance of the planned U.S.-North Korea summit.
What has remained unchanged for Japan and the rest of the international community is the need to continue to apply “maximum pressure” on the North so that President Trump can go into the planned summit with potent negotiating power.
The scenes of Moon and Kim talking face-to-face, both all smiles, brought on a feeling of strangeness. That might be due to their manner of cheerful diplomatic courtesy as much as their hopes for ending the division of the Korean peninsula.
It cannot be forgotten, however, that North Korea abducted a large number of foreigners, including Japanese citizens, and has continued to abuse domestic political prisoners.
Moreover, Kim had his once powerful uncle Chang Song Thaek executed after being purged for “acts of treachery” in 2013, and his half-brother Kim Jong Nam assassinated with chemical weapons in 2017. Yet, South Korean President Moon treated him as if nothing extraordinary had occurred.
Kim reportedly told Moon at the summit meeting that the North Korean dictator “won’t interrupt your early morning sleep anymore,” apparently referring to the mostly pre-dawn and early morning ballistic missile tests conducted by Pyongyang.
The act of referring to the missile launches as if he had been playing a joke—when he was menacing countries in the surrounding regions—is entirely unscrupulous. It seems symbolic of the summit between the two Koreas: smiling and joking but unable to engage in serious, substantive discussions that lead to denuclearization of the North.
Why has North Korea shifted to a charm offensive after repeated provocations and threats of its nuclear and missile capabilities? It is not due to Kim’s “bold and courageous” decision as referred to by Moon.
The truth is that Kim had no other choice. Sanctions by the international community, including those imposed by the United Nations’ Security Council, have dealt a heavy blow to the North. Pyongyang felt the pressure and must have been impatient for the easing of economic sanctions and relief assistance, offering the suspension of its nuclear and missile tests in exchange.
Given that North Korea has lied time and again, what is required in negotiations with Pyongyang is, first and foremost, a high degree of prudence. Placing excessive expectations on Kim’s behavior could put the international community’s goals in jeopardy.
No Mention of Abductions and Human Rights Violations
The North’s announcement of its intention to denuclearize should not be overvalued. Rather, any judgment should be based on concrete, specific actions taken by the North.
Kim’s announcement shortly before the two Koreas’ summit of his intention to suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests was praised by Moon as a step forward toward denuclearization. Yet, Pyongyang’s posture of regarding itself as a nuclear power has remained unchanged, even after the Moon-Kim talks. Talks for eliminating the nuclear and missile threats of North Korea, therefore, are up to U.S. President Trump.
One major matter of concern in connection with the Panmunjom Declaration is Seoul and Pyongyang’s pledge to declare an end to the Korean War and conclude a peace treaty by the end of the year. According to their joint declaration, the two Koreas and the United States, or the quadrilateral parties of Seoul, Pyongyang, Washington, and Beijing, should be involved in this process.
It must be remembered, however, that the U.S. troops in South Korea are there under United Nations deployment consistent with the 1953 armistice. An official end to the Korean War would likely fundamentally transform the very basis of the security environment on the Korean Peninsula. As with the nuclear and missile issues, whether to bring about an end to the Korean War would be of decisive significance to Japan’s security. A situation where these processes would be negotiated in the absence of Japan can never be acceptable.
What is happening on the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese and other foreigners? Moon, in talks with Prime Minister Abe, had promised to take up this equally important issue in the summit of the two Koreas, but the subject was not even mentioned in the joint declaration or the Moon-Kim joint press conference that followed. This is of grave concern to Japan.
President Moon should not forget the basic importance of keeping intact the cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)