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Takeaways from Korean summit

Korean summit
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M K Bhadrakumar |

From the Indian perspective, the Korea summit at Panmunjom today heralding the ‘end of the Korean war’ is a poignant occasion. The Kashmir issue, which is most of the same vintage, now remains as the only other decades-old flashpoint in international security since World War II. Arguably, the Korean problem is far more complicated than the Kashmir issue. The Kashmir issue is a bilateral issue whereas in the Korean problem, there are overlapping templates at the bilateral, regional and international level. Both are ‘nuclear flashpoints’.

But the Korean War (1950-1953) was far more catastrophic than all the wars India and Pakistan ever fought over Kashmir. The military casualties (dead, wounded or missing) exceeded 1 million while the civilian casualties are estimated to be several millions.

The key passages of the Panmunjom Declaration jointly issued by the leaders of South and North Korea – Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Unread as follows:

  • The two leaders solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula and thus a new era of peace has begun.
  • South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. South and North Korea shared the view that the measures being initiated by North Korea are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearisation of he Korean peninsula and agreed to carry our their respective roles and responsibilities in this regard. South and North Korea agreed to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community for the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

A signed joint statement was issued after several hours of talks between Moon and Kim (including one-on-one discussion as they strolled through the gardens and sat privately against the leafy backdrop with a serene atmosphere, deep in conversation, animatedly, but out of earshot). The joint statement is largely aspirational and doesn’t spell out concrete steps. But it flags the general idea that “the South and North have confirmed their common goal of realizing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.” The highlights are:

  • They will hold talks on formally establishing a peace treaty
  • Agreed to “urgently resolve” humanitarian issues of divided families
  • The two sides will work together to “ease the sharp military tensions on the Korean peninsula” and defense ministers will meet in May
  • Starting May 1, all propaganda activities, including loudspeakers and leaflets, will be halted.
  • Moon will visit Pyongyang in the autumn. They agreed to establish an inter-Korean joint liaison office in Kaeseong.

Kim noted, “We hope we will not repeat our mistake of the past. I hope this will be an opportunity for the two Korean peoples to move freely from North to South. We need to take responsibility for our own history.” Of course, there are still huge strategic and political divisions between North Korea on one side and South Korea and the United States on the other side. But this is a good start, since there has been a concrete commitment by Kim on denuclearization.

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All the key players in the region have welcomed the agreement, including China and Japan. Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it is ready to facilitate cooperation between North and South Korea, in railways, gas and electrical energy. China has taken care not to distract from the meeting at Panmunjom. The Chinese coverage of PM Modi’s meeting with President Xi Jinping at Wuhan has been noticeably restrained. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang has ben quoted as saying,

  • Today, the leaders of South and North Korea held their summit successfully. (They) announced a joint declaration on their common understanding of inter-Korean relations, easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula, denuclearizing the peninsula and a permanent peace.
  • The positive outcome of the summit is helpful for inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, peace and stability on the peninsula and the political resolution of Korean Peninsula issues.”

Trump’s first reaction to the Panmunjom meeting has come when he tweeted, “After a furious year of missile launches and Nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell!”

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South Korea is showering all praise on President Trump and giving him credit for what happened today at Panmunjom. It is a wise strategy since South Korea is essentially creating a positive momentum for Trump’s forthcoming summit with Kim and flattering the US president’s vanities at the same time. Put differently, South Korean president Moon is ensuring that Trump gets the Nobel Prize for Peace this year – and getting Trump to believe he earned it. But the real winner is Moon himself in taking a great leap forward in his life’s mission of inter-Korean reconciliation.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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