The Thaw Con­tin­ues

The fu­ture of re­cently tepid DPRK­ROK re­la­tions rests on ex­ter­nal fac­tors

Beijing Review - - WORLD - By Wen Qing

This year has seen the ten­sion in the Korean Penin­sula ease. The icy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (DPRK) and the Repub­lic of Korea (ROK) thawed sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter DPRK leader Kim Jong Un prof­fered an olive branch to the ROK in his new-year speech.

Then in Septem­ber, Moon Jae- in be­came the first ROK pres­i­dent to visit Py­ongyang, cap­i­tal of the DPRK, in 11 years.

Dur­ing his visit from Septem­ber 18 to 20, Moon met Kim for the third time. It was a jour­ney that saw un­usual hos­pi­tal­ity. Moon was re­ceived at the air­port by Kim him­self, who is also Chair­man of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party of Korea, and his wife Ri Sol Ju, and given a 21-gun salute. Moon’s se­nior press sec­re­tary Yoon Young-chan said it was a rare cour­tesy.

Con­sen­sus built

Moon came to the North with two main po­lit­i­cal tasks, fur­ther con­sol­i­dat­ing and im­prov­ing the peace progress be­tween the DPRK and the ROK achieved ear­lier this year and reignit­ing the stalled ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton. Re­cently, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump can­celed Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo’s sched­uled visit to the DPRK due to “lack of progress in de­nu­cle­ariza­tion,” with the DPRK’S of­fi­cial me­dia blam­ing the United States for its pro­longed pres­sure and mil­i­tary threat.

The pic­tures re­leased by the me­dia ap­pear to show Kim and Moon em­brac­ing in a ge­nial man­ner. Both looked ea­ger to put on a pos­i­tive show in a bid to re­flect their de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­sol­i­date the up­ward trend of bi­lat­eral ties. The meet­ing ended with the sign­ing of the Py­ongyang Joint Dec­la­ra­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, the two coun­tries will con­tinue their ef­forts to beef up peace and sta­bil­ity on the Korean Penin­sula. Kim and Moon agreed to end mil­i­tary hos­til­ity in the con­fronta­tion area, in­clud­ing the De­mil­i­ta­rized Zone. They also reached a con­sen­sus on elim­i­nat­ing all threats of war on the Penin­sula.

Per­haps most im­por­tantly, the DPRK agreed to con­tinue on its path to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. It un­der­took to per­ma­nently shut down Tongchang-ri, a test ground and rocket launch pad, and also ex­pressed its will­ing­ness to con­tinue with ad­di­tional steps to­ward de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. One such com­mit­ment was the de­struc­tion of the Ny­ong­byon nu­clear fa­cil­ity. How­ever, such com­mit­ments came with caveats, one be­ing that the United States takes cor­re­spond­ing ac­tions in line with the DPRK-U.S. joint state­ment signed dur­ing the KimTrump meet­ing in Sin­ga­pore on June 12.

“The DPRK’S com­mit­ments are a clear re­sponse to the con­cerns of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. Such mea­sures could in­ject a fresh lease of life to the process and act as a cat­a­lyst to break the dead­lock with the United States,” said Yang Xiyu, a re­searcher with the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Mean­while, the two lead­ers for­mu­lated prac­ti­cal mea­sures to en­hance eco­nomic in­ter­ac­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tion in in­fra­struc­ture build­ing, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and other fields. They also agreed to hold more reunion events for fam­i­lies which were sep­a­rated dur­ing the 1950-53 Korean War.

Chi­nese ob­servers be­lieve that the sus­ten­ta­tive con­sen­sus will have a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on the fu­ture re­la­tion­ship be­tween the DPRK and the United States. Com­pared to the vague lan­guage of their two pre­vi­ous meet­ings, this time Kim and Moon seemed to have agreed on a con­crete and am­bi­tious pro­gram meant to tackle the soar­ing ten­sions since last year, said Lu Chao, Di­rec­tor of the Bor­der Study In­sti­tute at the Liaon­ing Academy of So­cial Sci­ences.

U.S. fac­tor

The in­ter-korea rap­proche­ment won pos­i­tive global re­ac­tions. When com­ment­ing on the Py­ongyang sum­mit be­tween Kim and Moon, Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry spokesper­son Geng Shuang said, “China, as a close neigh­bor, al­ways sup­ports the ef­forts of the north and south of the Penin­sula to im­prove their ties and push for­ward rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and co­op­er­a­tion through di­a­logue and con­sul­ta­tion.”

Whether the en­cour­ag­ing trend can last ul­ti­mately de­pends on the at­ti­tude of the United States, Shi Yong­ming, an as­so­ciate re­searcher with the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, told Bei­jing Re­view.

Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton dis­agree on spe­cific steps to re­al­ize de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. The DPRK has de­manded re­cip­ro­cal mea­sures at ev­ery stage in the process, while the United States in­sists that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is the pre­con­di­tion for all sym­bi­otic mea­sures. The United States flatly rules out the eas­ing of crip­pling sanc­tions against the DPRK un­til the lat­ter’s nu­clear pro­gram is fully and ver­i­fi­ably dis­man­tled.

On the oc­ca­sion of the lat­est KimMoon meet­ing, Pom­peo said that the United States is ready to trans­form its re­la­tions with the DPRK im­me­di­ately. How­ever, the U.S. State De­part­ment said that the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the DPRK has to come first be­fore the U.S. side gives any cor­re­spond­ing re­cip­ro­cal mea­sures.

“The United States has long taken ad­van­tage of the nu­clear is­sue to seek a strate­gic edge in the Penin­sula in past decades. It is not strate­gi­cally and men­tally pre­pared for the DPRK’S de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and a peace­ful and stable Korean

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