The meeting of the leaders of the two Koreas, held on 04/27/2018, opened the perspective for the Korean War closure and unification of the Koreas. This occurs after 65 years of armistice of a war not yet officially closed. With respect to the unification, it is identified by the leaders of North and South Korea as the “greater aspiration of the Korean people” and the ultimate goal of the Declaration of Panmunjom.
For Moon Jae-in the unification is part of his electoral platform that won the support of the population and led him to the Presidency of South Korea; for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, it is perhaps the way of survival, breaking his isolation.
The text of the Panmunjom Declaration aiming at the unification of the Koreas was almost ignored in the Western press, which was based almost exclusively on a sub-item referring to denuclearization in topic 3 that refers to peace. It includes the whole Peninsula and is not a unilateral renunciation by North Korea of nuclear weapons; it also means getting rid of the threat of US nuclear bombs, including those implicit in the South Korea / US maneuvers.
The Declaration reaffirms good intentions to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula and its reunification (a term not used by the Koreans). This does not differ from previous manifestations. What sets it apart from other generic statements is that it was made by the highest authorities and the circumstances resulting from the possession of nuclear weapons by North Korea which made the issue much more urgent for the international community.
The full version of the Declaration, which can be seen in Annex 1 of the article on the denuclearization of the Koreas, draws attention for the pragmatic plan approved towards the reunification. The resulting text comes from a lengthy prior negotiation process that reflects a surprising understanding of the next steps. It contrasts with the vague feature of the Trump x Kim Jong-un statement, where only a few general principles are outlined to be considered in future actions.
The statement made by the two Korean leaders assumes that the present situation is an “old Cold War heritage”. The Koreas “hardily approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity, and the cultivation of inter-Korean relations.” Measures to be taken are detailed in 3 main topics:
- Unification led by Koreans facilitating a comprehensive and innovative breakthrough in relationship between Koreas,
- Joint efforts to mitigate military tension and eliminate the danger of war in the Peninsula,
- Establishment of a peace regime at the Korean peninsula, identified as a historical mission that should no longer be postponed, ending the “unnatural armistice” state.
On each of these topics, practical measures are detailed. In the first topic, the leadership of the Koreans in the reunification process is highlighted. Koreans will work to implement existing agreements, promote actions and meetings, including other high-level meetings. A permanent group was established, located on the north side of the border, in the city of Gaeseong, that was once the headquarters of the imperial government of Korea.
The joint efforts to achieve topic 2 were to reduce hostile actions, avoiding provocative military actions that were taking place, and also propaganda actions that the South had been doing with the distribution of leaflets and through loudspeakers at the border, attempting popular or desertions in the northern neighbor. They also include meetings of high level and an intense activity of cultural and sportive approach that, by the disclosed news, continues being fulfilled.
The list of proposed actions for the first two topics seems feasible and very consistent with the announced goals.
The third topic reaffirms the Non-Aggression Agreement and a phased disarmament process is proposed, in so far as military tension is reduced. Knowing that peace in Korea is an issue that will not be decided without the participation of USA and China, trilateral and quadrilateral meetings are proposed with these countries in order to establish the end of the war and a solid permanent peace regime. As a final item, it is proposed to achieve, through complete denuclearization, a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. The Koreas agreed to seek support and cooperation from the international community to achieve this goal.
Direct communication facilities were established among Korean leaders, including by phone. In the crisis that almost cancelled the meeting between the American president and the North Korean leader there was news of intense articulation between the two Koreas.
There seems to be an Eastern determination to achieve, with patience and perseverance the reunification (a term not used by Koreans who always speak of unification). The idea of holding meetings with the countries concerned is being pursued with persistence. On the other hand, the initiatives of cultural and institutional relationship are happening.
Both parties were able to identify in external factors the main obstacles to unification. The simple assimilation of North Korea by South Korea, as was the case in Germany, would never be accepted by China, that would not tolerate American troops on its border, nor would Russia want to. The opposite hypothesis, of the unification with predominance of the regime of the North, is rejected by the threat that it would represent to Japan that motivated the War of Korea in the early 50’s. In addition, the level of progress that today enjoys the population of South Korea makes the hypothesis unacceptable.
The solution seems to pass through a unified and equidistant Korea between China and the USA as in Austria, initially divided at the end of World War II and unified with the commitment of neutrality. The path indicated by the Declaration of Panmunjom is to achieve peace, normalize the human, cultural and commercial relationship between the two Koreas and then achieve unification. To do so, it would be necessary to dismantle the Cold War situation that still persists, finding an understanding between China and the USA and an agreement from Russia and Japan.
Statements by Donald Trump after the summit meeting with North Korea gave the clue that this subject has been addressed and there is some possibility of success. It would begin with the suspension of South Korea’s joint military maneuvers with the USA, that Trump, himself recognized as provocative. Obviously the departure of American troops from the South, which the American president considered possible and even desirable in the future, would be indispensable in a framework of neutrality at the Peninsula as well as a reduction of the Chinese presence in the North. The difficult thing is to imagine that the Trump Administration is capable of this, but it was Nixon who reached distension with China and ended the conflict with Vietnam. The biggest difference is perhaps that Nixon had Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State.
Carlos Feu Alvim