On Friday, April 27, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in made history by promising to formally end the Korean War this year and rid the peninsula of all nuclear weapons by 2021. The Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification, hailed by Mr. Kim as a “new era of peace,” is the culmination of reconciliatory efforts between the two countries, which began in January at the request of the North Korean leader.
The summit, which convened at Panmunjom Truce Village’s Peace House in the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the nations, was the first meeting of the country’s leaders in over a decade. It was also the first time a North Korean head of state has set foot on South Korean soil since the end of the Korean War in 1953. In a symbolic, unscripted moment, President Moon also stepped into North Korean territory at Mr. Kim’s beckoning.
Along with meetings with advisors, the two leaders had a private, 30-minute conference and a tree-planting ceremony. Tended to with soil and water from both countries, the sapling from a 1953 pine tree — the year of the Korean War armistice — represented their renewed efforts at friendship. “I am very proud to say that I pay tribute to the bold and courageous decision taken by Chairman Kim,” said President Moon, while Mr. Kim added: “We are not people who should be confronting each other. We should be living in unity.” The historic event ended with a dinner banquet at the Peace House on the South Korea side of the DMZ, where the leaders and their wives enjoyed a musical performance and watched a slideshow of photos from the day while holding hands. There, Mr. Kim emphasized the “need to maintain peace” and “open a new era of co-prosperity.”
The Panmunjom Declaration is a significant milestone, with the potential to unite the peninsula — home to nearly 80 million people — in the future. The agreement includes measures such as the establishment of a joint liaison office in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong, joint participation in sporting events like the Asian Games, meetings between defense ministers, and the ceasing of propaganda activities like loudspeaker declarations and leaflets at the border. An August 15 reunion will also be hosted for families who were split by the Korean Peninsula division. In a further show of diplomacy, President Moon has agreed to visit North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang in the fall and also hinted at potential economic investments to improve North Korea’s road and train systems.
While the agreement laid the groundwork for significant change, there is still months, or years, of work to be done before the two nations will be able to re-unite. “It has become the case that improving the relationship between North and South Korea cannot just be achieved by agreement between the two countries, but requires the fulfillment of a denuclearization agreement between the United States and North Korea,” President Moon said.
North Korea, which sees their nuclear stockpile as a defense against potential U.S. aggression, will most likely require the departure of the 28,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea before agreeing to the removal of the weapons. These issues and more will be discussed at the upcoming, still-to-be-scheduled meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump — the first such interaction between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
This is not the first time the two countries have tried to reconcile their differences. Previous summits held in 2000 and 2007 by Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jung Il, and Mr. Moon’s predecessors failed to result in any concrete changes. However, many people believe that this time will be different. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “salutes the courage and leadership that resulted in the important commitments and agreed actions,” and “looks forward to these gains being consolidated and advanced at the Summit between the leaders of the United States and the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea].” The leaders of China, Japan, and Russia have also expressed their optimism. Hopefully, Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon will follow through on their promises of reuniting the nation and making the world a safer, more peaceful place.
Resources: cnn.com, npr.org, time.com, theguardian.com