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Current Events The handshake of history: the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit

May. 7, 2018
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On April 27th, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un met on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. It was the third ever meeting between leaders of the two Koreas, and the first in the last eleven years. This meeting took place following the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in which the two countries agreed on a joint attendance.

The entire world watched the live broadcast in anticipation to see how this meeting would play out. The two leaders marched down towards the demarcation line to greet each other; smiling widely, the two shared a long, firm handshake as Kim became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea since 1953. In an unscripted moment, Kim offered Moon to come over to the North Korean side, which he accepted. This brief step into the North was a show of President Moon’s open, positive attitude towards future cooperation with his country's counterpart.

The Trump administration expressed its satisfaction with the meeting’s results, as President Trump tweeted: "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!"

Why was this important?

  • Historically, the relationship between North and South Korea has generally been tense for more than half a century. The two countries have been divided since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
  • It should be noted that this is not the first time that North Korea has expressed willingness to denuclearize. In 2007, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for sanction relief and humanitarian aid, but then pulled out of the deal in 2009.
  • This is the second time that Kim has met the leader of another country, after his  brief visit to China in March.
  • This is the first time in a decade that the South Korean government is seeking active engagement with the North.
  • After months of threats, arguments, and militarization on all sides (including that of the U.S.), this summit served as a good opportunity to negotiate denuclearization in a diplomatic manner.
  • The outcome of the Inter-Korean summit will directly affect the expectations, subject matter, and results of the Trump-Kim summit, which will take place in the next few weeks. 

What was the outcome of this summit?

The main ideas of the new Panmunjom Agreement are as follows:

  • The two leaders declared that there will be "no more war on the Korean peninsula.”
  • South and North Korea both agree on the common goal of a "nuclear-free Korean peninsula.”
  • Quadrilateral meetings involving North Korea, South Korea, the U.S., and China will be held with the intention of formally declaring an end to the Korean War, which is technically still ongoing since a peace treaty was never signed in 1953.
  • More active cooperation, contact, dialogue, and visits will be held between the two countries.
  • South and North Korea agree to cooperate in resolving the humanitarian issues that arose from the nations’ division.
  • South and North Korea agree to continue the reunion program for separated families on August 15th, which marks National Liberation Day.

Does this mean diplomacy works?

In a world of constantly conflicting interests between groups of people, we are often seeking for the answer to how countries can settle their disagreements. As somewhat of an idealist in terms of foreign policy, I always looked to diplomacy as the first and foremost solution. We can talk it out before we start launching bombs at each other… right?

As powerful countries have asserted their veto rights to put down any proposals against their self-interests, and as seemingly "old problems" have continued to permeate our society, I couldn't help but feel that diplomacy was beginning to fail on me. The United Nations, while important and absolutely necessary for countries to discuss world issues and vote on policies, is often not as effective as we would like it to be.

The agreement signed at the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit is filled with optimism, generalities, and ambitious goals, but lacks concrete details on how the North and South Korea will go about achieving them. The main problem resides in the ambiguity of terms promised and agreed upon by the different parties. What does it mean to "reaffirm,” "recognize,” or "make joint effort"? Will they actually carry out measures to "bring forward the future of co-prosperity and unification"? This is exactly why many people question the effectiveness of diplomacy. To many, it has simply become a game of empty promises.

 The world has yet to see whether agreements of tangible and concrete plans will come out of the Trump-Kim Summit. But if the two Koreas are able to put 65 years of differences aside to sign this historic agreement through peaceful negotiations, then maybe diplomacy isn't as dead as we thought. Nevertheless, we should applaud the South Korean administration, in part, for its attempt to push for a more peaceful Korean Peninsula.