Is the Korean Peninsula on track to becoming great again? Time will tell, but today’s historic peace summit between both North and South Korean leaders in a bid to end the 65-year Korean War certainly moves the two countries in the right direction.
According to CNN, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un became the first of his kin to “cross into South Korean territory since fighting in the Korean War ended in 1953,” sharing in a historic handshake to kick off the peace summit. Both countries have vowed to formally end the conflict that began when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea in 1950. The leaders have also pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The photos of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shaking hands and posing for pictures on both sides of the demarcation line is the first time the two leaders would meet face-to-face.
“After a morning of meetings with officials, Kim and Moon took part in a symbolic tree-planting ceremony in the DMZ,” reports CNN. “The tree is from 1953, the year the Korean War armistice was signed. Kim used soil from a mountain on the southern island of Jeju while Moon used earth from Mount Paektu in the north.”
“Then, the two leaders left their officials behind and walked alone through the DMZ to a footbridge that was recently repainted the same blue used on the Korean Unification Flag. Unexpectedly, they talked for 30 minutes alone.”
The peace summit aims to establish several key goals which will take years to implement, including the potential reunification of the peninsula, establishing a “joint liaison office,” and allowing for a reunion of families separated by the war. South Korean president Moon Jae-in is expected to visit North Korean capital Pyongyang later this year. Here are several of the items agreed upon, from CNN:
- North and South Korea will establish a “joint liaison office” in the Kaesong region, where the two countries used to operate an industrial complex.
- The two sides agreed to “encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity.”
- Both countries will hold a special meeting on June 15.
- North and South Korea will jointly participate in international sporting events like the Asian Games, which will be held this year in Indonesia.
- The two countries will hold reunions for families separated by the division of the Korean Peninsula on August 15.
- Both sides agreed to stop blasting propaganda through loudspeakers on the border.
- North and South Korea agreed to meetings between defense ministers.
President Trump has shown cautious optimism on Twitter, saying Americans should be proud of this moment and hope it leads to a peaceful future.
In a second tweet, Trump wrote: “KOREAN WAR TO END! The United States, and all of its GREAT people, should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!”
While the gestures shown on Friday from North Korea are indeed monumental, experts are saying to take it all with a grain of salt. Mike Chinoy, senior fellow at the University of California’s US-China Institute and former CNN Beijing bureau chief, said there’s still much to be worked out:
I don’t think people should get carried away by the extraordinary scenes that we’re seeing — there’s still an enormous amount to be worked out before these good intentions turn into practical steps. But it is unquestionably a turning point, and now the challenge is going to be for President Trump and Kim Jong Un to try and build on that. I think one big question on that score is how far Kim Jong Un is prepared to go in practical terms on the nuclear issue and on that we simply don’t know.
Vipin Narang, professor of political science at MIT and a member of the school’s Security Studies Program, said more evidence of Kim Jong Un’s commitment to peace must be seen before any determinations can be made:
North Korea has long committed to “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which is not the same thing as unilateral disarmament. Reaffirming this language is not new and should be treated with caution, historic summit notwithstanding. It can be interpreted differently by different parties, by design. Until there is evidence of an agreed upon definition and concrete steps of what “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” there is a lot of wiggle room — both for a potential meaningful bargain short of disarmament, but also for conflict if the North Korean definition does not come close to resembling the U.S.
Duyeon Kim, visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, says the move will lead to a “Trump-Kim summit” that could pave the path toward peace:
Including the words “complete denuclearization” is a win for Moon that he’s needed to ensure that this summit leads to a Trump-Kim summit. And in that sense, it really doesn’t matter if Kim Jong Un is serious because the real game will be between him and Trump on the nuclear issue.