The Korean Peninsula: At the starting line for peace

History is in the making on the Korean Peninsula.

On March 6, Chung Eui-yong, Chief of South Korea National Security Council, announced, “the 2018 inter-Korean summit is planned to be held in late April, on the South Korean side of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, between President Moon Jae-in of Republic of Korea and Chairman Kim Jong-un of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” It will also be the first time that North Korean leader steps across the DMZ to set foot on South Korean soil since the Korean War.

What is perhaps more significant, in his announcement, Mr. Chung made clear that Kim Jong-un “clearly affirmed his commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and stated he would have no reason to possess nuclear weapons should the safety of his regime be guaranteed and military threats against North Korea removed.” Kim, according to Chung, assured him “he would halt all provocations, including nuclear tests and missile launches, as long as dialogue continues.”

Then, on March 8, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sandersconfirmed that President Trump has accepted “the invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un at a place and time to be determined.”

The same evening on Twitter, the U.S. president wrote, “Meeting being planned! Kim Jong-un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze. Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.”

“The denuclearization and peace of the Korean Peninsula,” declared South Korean President Moon Jae-in on March 9, “is becoming a reality.”

The 2018 inter-Korean summit will not be the first meeting between leaders of the two Koreas. The two previous inter-Korean summits, the first in 2000 and the second in 2007, took place in Pyongyang. Never before, however, has a leader of North Korea met a sitting U.S. president.The agreement to meet is, indeed, “a historic milestone,” as hailed by President Moon.

“Weighty questions hang over what Kim and Trump can offer each other,” writes Andrew Salmon of Asia Times, “but their agreement to meet and talk is an unprecedented diplomatic landmark… Reinforcing the remarkable nature of the development is the fact that, mere months ago, the two leaders were trading war threats-such as comparing the size of their nuclear buttons-and insults, ‘dotard’ versus ‘Little Rocket Man’. The extraordinary speed of the ongoing process-from threats of war to the announcement of the meeting between the leaders-is unprecedented. For this, credit must go to the key players in the drama.”

The first credit goes to Moon Jae-in. The April Moon-Kim Panmunjom Summit is not only a significant step in reconciliation between the two Koreas, but also a major diplomatic breakthrough for the South Korean President in his bid to bring denuclearization and peace to the Korean Peninsula.

President Moon’s North Korea strategy, writes Rudiger Frank at University of Vienna, “does not offer unconditional cooperation to Pyongyang, but it also does not signal an intention to colonize North Korea. Moon worked hard to emphasize the importance of the alliance with the United States and explicitly mentioned complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons program. But he also clearly stressed the need for Korea to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to inter-Korean relations and an eventual unification, echoing the term ‘by our nation itself,’ which is so popular in North Korea.”

Secondly, to Donald Trump. President Trump’s “dual policy of unprecedented bellicosity on the one hand, and periodic offers to personally meet Kim on the other,” says Salmon, “has contributed to this result. “The Trump administration deserves credit for increasing the pressure and deepening even further the alienation between China and North Korea,” noted John Delury at Yonsei University in Seoul, “and globally, there have been a lot of bilateral relationships where Trump has put North Korea at the top of the agenda.”

“Trump’s tightening noose,” argues Charlie Campbell of Time magazine, “combined with a sympathetic ear in Seoul, is the most likely explanation for Kim’s stunning about-face… Now the ‘good cop, bad cop’ strategy has begun to pry open the inscrutable Hermit Kingdom.”

Thirdly, to Kim Jong-un. The Swiss-educated 34-year-old North Korean leader has not only committed to something that neither his father nor his grandfather managed to do, but also offered to discuss denuclearization with Washington and Seoul.

Recent developments have revived hope for solving North Korea nuclear crisis peacefully, but the hard work toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula has barely begun.

Xiaoxiong Yi is director of Marietta College’s China Program.

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