From Peace Olympics to Olympic Peace

Global Asia - - CONTENTS CONTINUED - By Jong Seok Lee

a pos­si­ble fu­ture on the Korean Penin­sula of peace and mu­tual pros­per­ity is vis­i­ble now, but it will take much hard work yet to get there.

The Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics al­lowed for a spec­tac­u­lar diplo­matic turnaround in re­la­tions be­tween North Korea, South Korea and the United States.

With two bold sum­mits — North Korea-south Korea, then North Korea-us — sched­uled within weeks, we can now see a pos­si­ble fu­ture on the Korean Penin­sula of peace and mu­tual pros­per­ity, writes former South Korean Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­is­ter Jong Seok Lee. But to get from bold ideas to last­ing peace will take hard work, com­pro­mise and most im­por­tantly trust. held Peace­fully and spec­tac­u­larly, the Pyeongchang Win­ter Olympics gave Kore­ans a pre­cious gift — the pos­si­bil­ity that the quag­mire of con­flict and con­fronta­tion on the Korean Penin­sula may be com­ing to an end. Pyeongchang of­fered the two Koreas room for diplo­macy and a glimpse of a pos­si­ble fu­ture of di­a­logue and peace. the peace­ful Pyeongchang Olympics may open the way to peace on the penin­sula af­ter the Olympics.

the Korean Penin­sula, re­cently on the brink of war due to north Korea’s ag­gres­sive nu­clear and mis­sile tests, found a path to­ward di­a­logue as a re­sult of Py­ongyang’s de­ci­sion to par­tic­i­pate in the Olympic Games. Be­cause of this open­ing, there is an agree­ment to re­sume in­ter-korean di­a­logue and the stun­ning an­nounce­ment of a planned north Korea-us sum­mit in May.

this star­tling turn of events be­gan when Kim Jong un, the chair­man of the state Coun­cil of the DPRK, dis­patched a high-level del­e­ga­tion to south Korea to con­vey his con­grat­u­la­tions on the Pyeongchang Olympics. he ap­pointed his sis­ter and close aide, Kim Yo Jong, as a spe­cial en­voy and a mem­ber of the north Korean del­e­ga­tion. hav­ing ar­rived in seoul, Kim Yo Jong met with south Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and de­liv­ered a hand­writ­ten let­ter and ver­bal mes­sage from Kim Jong un, ex­press­ing his de­sire to hold an in­ter-korean sum­mit. tak­ing this op­por­tu­nity, Pres­i­dent Moon dis­patched his en­voys to north Korea. the spe­cial en­voys con­firmed Kim Jong un’s re­solve to de­nu­cle­arize and agreed to an in­ter-korean sum­mit in late april. af­ter Py­ongyang, the south Korean en­voys flew to Wash­ing-

Olympic en­sem­ble: The North and South Korean del­e­ga­tions cel­e­brate to­gether at the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Pyeongchang Games.

ton, DC, to carry a mes­sage that led to the agree­ment for an his­toric sum­mit in May be­tween the lead­ers of north Korea and the united states, Kim Jong un and Don­ald trump.

the fu­ture course for the Korean Penin­sula, where dra­matic turns are the norm, will likely be de­ter­mined by what the south Korean en­voys agreed on when they met with Kim Jong un and the re­sults of both the in­ter-korean sum­mit in april and the north Korea-us sum­mit in May. ac­cord­ingly, I will an­a­lyze the re­sults of the south Korean spe­cial en­voy’s visit to north Korea and the im­pli­ca­tions of the north Korea-us sum­mit agree­ment, and then pro­pose sev­eral tasks for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ments.

in­ter-korean sum­mitry and Ne­go­ti­a­tion

south Korea’s del­e­ga­tion to north Korea achieved an im­por­tant out­come with their de­ter­mi­na­tion that Kim Jong un’s com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion is suf­fi­cient enough for the us to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion for di­a­logue with north Korea and for both Koreas to agree to their own sum­mit. First, with re­gard to the is­sue of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, the del­e­ga­tion un­cov­ered im­por­tant clues from Chair­man Kim that can make pro­duc­tive di­a­logue pos­si­ble where only mil­i­tary con­flict seemed to be on hori­zon not long be­fore. Kim Jong un has moved for­ward on the fol­low­ing four points: • Will­ing­ness to ac­cept con­di­tional de­nu­cle­ariza­tion — mean­ing there is no rea­son to pos­sess nu­clear weapons should the us mil­i­tary threats against north Korea be re­moved and the safety of the regime guar­an­teed.

• Will­ing­ness to en­gage in a can­did di­a­logue on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion be­tween north Korea and the united states.

• Will­ing­ness to re­frain from strate­gic provocations such as ad­di­tional nu­clear tests and mis­sile launches while en­gaged in talks with the us. • Sig­nal­ing an ac­cep­tance of the Us-south Korea joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises planned for april.

If north Korea has changed its po­si­tions this much, there is no rea­son for the us not to ac­cept an of­fer of di­a­logue. although some may be re­pelled by the idea of con­di­tional de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, it has had broad ac­cep­tance in the past, and now the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, cen­tered around the us, must pro­vide cor­re­spond­ing com­pen­sa­tion to north Korea if it is to re­nounce nu­clear weapons.

Con­cern­ing us-south Korea joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, Kim Jong un said, “I un­der­stand [the ex­er­cises] are con­ducted an­nu­ally.” this remark was taken to mean that north Korea it­self has re­moved an ob­sta­cle that it had in­sisted was the great­est hin­drance to a north Korea-us di­a­logue. this led to the con­clu­sion that north Korea’s de­sire for real di­a­logue is closer to truth than de­cep­tion. In­deed, I be­lieve Pres­i­dent trump read­ily ac­cepted Kim Jong un’s sum­mit pro­posal af­ter be­ing briefed by the south Korean en­voys be­cause he deemed north Korea’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept de­nu­cle­ariza­tion cred­i­ble.

another im­por­tant achieve­ment by the south Korean spe­cial en­voys was the agree­ment to hold an in­ter-korean sum­mit in late april, some­thing that would have been very dif­fi­cult to pre­dict be­fore the visit. Why did Pres­i­dent Moon con­sent to the pro­posal for early talks from north Korea? this is likely due to the strate­gic as­sess­ment that it is bet­ter to start early pro­mot­ing the con­di­tions for progress on both north Korean nu­clear is­sues and in­ter-korean re­la­tions.

the fact that the in­ter-korean sum­mit is sched­uled to take place at Peace house in Pan­munjom on the de­mil­i­ta­rized zone (DMZ) is also star­tling. this means that Kim Jong un must cross the DMZ line to at­tend the sum­mit just south of the bor­der. It seems that north Korea made the de­ci­sion out of con­sid­er­a­tion that the first and sec­ond

Although some may be re­pelled by the idea of con­di­tional de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, it has had broad ac­cep­tance in the past, and now the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, cen­tered around the US, must pro­vide cor­re­spond­ing com­pen­sa­tion to North Korea if it is to re­nounce nu­clear weapons.

in­ter-korean sum­mits were held in Py­ongyang. Pan­munjom, of course, is a sym­bol of the Korean con­flict, with the Peace house ad­min­is­tered by the united na­tions Com­mand. nev­er­the­less, the ra­tio­nale be­hind choos­ing the Peace house for the sum­mit seems to be that Kim Jong un wants to show his re­solve to end the era of in­ter-korean con­fronta­tion. this could be a sign that if peace is re­al­ized, north Korea would not mind the pres­ence of the united states Forces in Korea (usfk), which has been a ha­bit­ual stum­bling block.

the other mean­ing of the Pan­munjom in­terko­rean sum­mit is that the two lead­ers have shown a will­ing­ness to throw out a com­pli­cated sum­mit for­mat and to fo­cus on the con­tent of ne­go­ti­a­tions. In late april, we may see the two lead­ers con­duct an earnest and busi­ness-like meet­ing at Peace house, se­ri­ously dis­cussing is­sues and the fu­ture of the Penin­sula, ac­com­pa­nied by close aides but with­out cer­e­mo­nial fan­fare.

ex­ceed­ing ev­ery­one’s ex­pec­ta­tions, Pres­i­dent Moon agreed to the early sum­mit be­cause of his as­sess­ment that talks were pos­si­ble with Kim Jong un. he has al­ready won a con­sid­er­able con­ces­sion with the dis­patch­ing of the diplo­matic del­e­ga­tion to north Korea. since he as­sumed power in De­cem­ber 2011, no top for­eign leader has met with Kim Jong un. six years have passed with no sum­mits or talks. In this con­text, the april in­terko­rean sum­mit car­ries great sig­nif­i­cance.

Con­sid­er­ing Pres­i­dent Moon’s com­mit­ment to con­sol­i­date a peace regime on the Korean Penin­sula, he is likely look­ing for the april sum­mit to be a turn­ing point. In par­tic­u­lar, it seems that he will try to forge an agree­ment that cre­ates con­di­tions for the suc­cess of the north Korea-us sum­mit meet­ing which would de­cide the des­tiny of the Korean Penin­sula. If it works, peace will come to the Korean Penin­sula and a new era of com­mon pros­per­ity be­tween the two Koreas can be­gin.

Mean­while, the fact that the two Koreas have agreed to set up a hot­line be­tween their lead­ers to al­low for close con­sul­ta­tions and a re­duc­tion in mil­i­tary ten­sion is also an im­por­tant step for­ward. this di­rect-line link be­tween the Blue house (Cheong­wadae) and Kim Jong un’s of­fice in the head­quar­ters of the Worker’s Party of Korea, which the two sides will in­au­gu­rate be­fore the sum­mit, is a cru­cial step to­ward pre­vent­ing an ac­ci­den­tal con­fronta­tion. It should also demon­strate that is­sues can be re­solved through di­rect talks be­tween the lead­ers; it

may even help fa­cil­i­tate fur­ther di­a­logue that can in­clude Pres­i­dent trump. From this, we can in­fer that Kim Jong un, un­like his pre­de­ces­sors, is seek­ing a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. he wants to lessen con­fronta­tion and pur­sue an ac­tive in­ter­est in a mil­i­tary dé­tente be­tween south and north Korea.

the North Korea-us sum­mit

the north Korea-us sum­mit meet­ing sched­uled for May is a seis­mic event that can fun­da­men­tally change his­tory. this sum­mit meet­ing, which Pres­i­dent trump im­me­di­ately ac­cepted, brings to­gether the two cen­tral play­ers in the axis of con­flict sur­round­ing the north Korean nu­clear is­sue and the armistice sys­tem on the Korean Penin­sula. If the sum­mit suc­ceeds, there is a high pos­si­bil­ity that the cur­rent con­fronta­tional struc­ture on the Korean Penin­sula may be trans­formed into a peace­ful struc­ture.

although some have pre­dicted that north Korea would seek a set­tle­ment on its nu­clear weapons as a pre­con­di­tion for talks with the us, that seems highly un­likely. Both the in­ter-korean sum­mit and the north Korea-us sum­mit came about as a re­sult of Kim Jong un’s de­sire to hold early sum­mit meet­ings with the lead­ers of both coun­tries. In ad­di­tion, the agree­ment to sus­pend nu­clear and mis­sile tests and the quiet ac­cep­tance of the us-south Korea joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in april were sug­gested first by north Korea to cre­ate the con­di­tions for di­a­logue, rather than as a re­sult of south Korean pres­sure.

We are now see­ing a Kim Jong un who seems se­ri­ous about di­a­logue and can even of­fer con­ces­sions ahead of talks. this is in stark con­trast to his fa­ther, Kim Jong Il, who barely pur­sued di­a­logue and con­ceded lit­tle. had the spe­cial en­voys to north Korea not been able to con­firm a com­mit­ment to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion from Kim Jong un, nei­ther Pres­i­dent Moon nor Pres­i­dent trump would have ac­com­mo­dated the pro­posed sum­mit meet­ings.

the core topic of the north Korea-us sum­mit is the nu­clear is­sue. If the sum­mit is suc­cess­ful, there is a good chance for a com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment where the us guar­an­tees north Korea’s regime se­cu­rity and pro­vides it with what it needs to be­come a nor­mal coun­try; in ex­change, north Korea must re­nounce its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity. even if a com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment is achieved, it will take a long time for work­ing-level of­fi­cials to cre­ate a roadmap to fol­low. and in diplo­macy the devil is al­ways in the de­tails, so the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the agree­ment may be de­layed or even breached if con­flict emerges dur­ing the process.

this time, how­ever, the talks are tak­ing a top­down ap­proach, where a com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment be­tween the lead­ers would be made first, with work­ing-level of­fi­cials fol­low­ing up with con­crete mea­sures. this pre­sum­ably al­lows for a higher pos­si­bil­ity of im­ple­men­ta­tion than if work­ing-level of­fi­cials had to ham­mer out a com­pre­hen­sive agree­ment first. With Kim Jong un and trump bet­ting on a po­lit­i­cal win from the sum­mit, typ­i­cal ob­sta­cles at a lower work­ing level might be elim­i­nated in the push for a suc­cess­ful deal.

Fur­ther­more, with the new in­ter-korean hot­line in op­er­a­tion, the lead­ers may be able to deal with chal­lenges more ef­fi­ciently. It would be great if a hot­line be­tween Pres­i­dent trump and Kim Jong un could also come about as a re­sult of the north Korea-us sum­mit. If not, Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang can al­ways use the good of­fices of Pres­i­dent Moon as a me­di­a­tor if there are se­ri­ous prob­lems at later work­ing-level ne­go­ti­a­tions. sim­ply put, the hot­line adds greatly to the chances of a suc­cess­ful out­come.

In the mean­time, the fact that the two sum­mits will take place al­most con­sec­u­tively boosts the prospects for a grand trans­for­ma­tion on the Korean Penin­sula. If a grand agree­ment is

reached through the sum­mits, it means that the two main sources of ten­sion on the Penin­sula can be solved si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a vir­tu­ous cy­cle that moves to­ward an or­ganic con­clu­sion in­volv­ing all three coun­tries.

to be sure, there will be many dif­fi­cul­ties in draw­ing up a roadmap of con­crete mea­sures to fol­low up a grand agree­ment be­tween the lead­ers. to over­come those dif­fi­cul­ties, there must be a process that ac­cu­mu­lates trust at the work­ing-level. In other words, as time goes by, the ne­go­ti­a­tions should be­come more solid. how­ever, it is quite chal­leng­ing for coun­tries who have suf­fered from ex­treme sus­pi­cion to­ward each other to build trust. But mu­tual trust is a pre­con­di­tion for any grand bar­gain to re­sult in a long-term pro­gram.

In re­al­ity, dis­trust will con­stantly in­ter­rupt the im­ple­men­ta­tion of an agree­ment even if a grand bar­gain is made at the sum­mit. the us will fear north Korean “de­cep­tion” dur­ing the lengthy process of wait­ing for Py­ongyang to give up its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties. north Korea will be frus­trated if sanc­tions are not greatly eased at an early stage af­ter a grand agree­ment is reached.

In or­der to solve this prob­lem, it will be nec­es­sary for north Korea to prom­ise sev­eral tan­gi­ble mea­sures that can con­firm its com­mit­ment to give up its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties while the us should prom­ise to open a road to ease sanc­tions at an early stage. Mean­while, north Korea should rec­og­nize the sta­tus of the us on the Korean Penin­sula, and the us should send a sig­nal to north Korea by ac­cept­ing its right to ex­ist as a way to build trust.

For ex­am­ple, if north Korea does not pub­licly op­pose the pres­ence of us forces in south Korea and if the us tones down its hos­tile pol­icy stance to­ward north Korea, it will greatly im­pact the amer­i­can per­cep­tion of the sit­u­a­tion. In­deed, in 1992, north Korea al­ready un­of­fi­cially sig­naled its in­tent along these lines, a sen­ti­ment that was con­firmed by Kim Jong Il dur­ing the first in­terko­rean sum­mit in 2000. should Kim Jong un of­fi­cially take such a po­si­tion in May, it would sig­nal that north Korea will not use the is­sue of the with­drawal of us forces in south Korea as a way to block progress to­ward a peace treaty that moves be­yond de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

ad­di­tion­ally, if the us prom­ises to es­tab­lish a diplo­matic mis­sion in Py­ongyang early on, that would be a cat­a­lyst for im­prov­ing north Korea’s trust to­ward the us. One of north Korea’s con­stant com­plaints is that the us does not rec­og­nize its leader and it sys­tem. In other words, the us de­nies its ex­is­tence. the es­tab­lish­ment of a us mis­sion in Py­ongyang could be­come a cru­cial foun­da­tion of trust be­tween north Korea and the us. even­tu­ally, if the lead­ers of north Korea and the us reach a grand agree­ment on a com­pre­hen­sive set­tle­ment, trust-build­ing mea­sures at an early stage will be vi­tal to guide and strengthen the process. jong seok lee is se­nior fel­low at the sejong in­sti­tute in seoul. in 2006, he served as Min­is­ter of uni­fi­ca­tion and Chair­man of the stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional se­cu­rity Coun­cil of south Korea. from 2003 to 2005, he was deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Na­tional se­cu­rity Coun­cil. he has pub­lished nu­mer­ous books in Korean on North Korea and North Korea-china re­la­tions.

this ar­ti­cle, orig­i­nally writ­ten in Korean, was trans­lated by ho­sub hwang and jiseon Chang, global asia fel­lows at the East asia foun­da­tion.

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