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Peace, A New Start

Zha Hyoung RHEE-Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Afghanistan

Tomorrow, the world will be all eyes on the Korean Peninsula. The historic inter-Korean Summit will take place on 27th at Panmunjeom, where the Armistice Agreement for the Korean War was signed more than six decades ago. People not only from Korea but also from the region and the world will see how countless sleepless nights and shuttle diplomacy will translate into a solid foundation for the peace on the Korean Peninsula. Panmunjeom, which the military demarcation line runs through, will transform itself from an icon of Division and Confrontation to an icon of Reconciliation and Peace.

The summit, which will be followed by the first-ever summit between North Korea and the United States in about a month’s time, is indeed a product of the unyielding efforts made by President Moon Jae-in and the Government of the Republic of Korea, and the full support of the international community, to encourage the North to enter into dialogue in the midst of the escalating security crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It is the first meeting of the leaders of the South and North in 11 years since the second summit in 2007 following the first in 2000, and the North’s leader will be stepping onto the South Korean side of Panmunjeom for the first time.

As pertinently reflected in its official slogan “Peace, A New Start,” the summit is expected to serve as an invaluable opportunity to provide a significant momentum for both Koreas towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, building a lasting peace regime, and paving the way for the sustainable advancement of inter-Korean relations. Furthermore, it should also serve as a useful guide to steer the success of the U.S.-North Korea summit. As such, it is no exaggeration to say that the summit is a crucial event to determine the future of the Korean Peninsula.

In retrospect, it was only a few months ago that military tension on the Korean Peninsula escalated to an extreme, casting a glimmering shadow of war. Most media outlets at home and abroad forecast that North Korea would never give up its nuclear weapons and intended to challenge the United States by being recognized as a nuclear weapons state. Even after inter-Korean talks resumed on the occasion of the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, some voiced concern over a possible crisis in April following the close of the Olympics—that inter-Korean relations would go into a tailspin again if the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises began—thus stoking public anxiety.

Things might have proceeded that way. Instead of letting the evolving developments dictate our fate, however, we have remained committed to setting an ideal stage on our own initiative and made necessary efforts, making it possible to turn things around. Dating further back, when President Moon unveiled a peace initiative in Berlin in July last year, many people said it was a pipe dream. However, the dream is now inching toward reality. Audacious imagination and strategies helped turn the tide, paving the way for the current situation.

As mentioned above, the focus of the Summit will be placed on laying the foundation for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as for progress in inter-Korean relations, rather than on reaching an agreement on numerous fronts. The three items will be discussed in a balanced and comprehensive manner. Measures to ensure consistent implementation of the agreement between the South and North are also expected to be discussed.

The peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue is a goal and task of highest priority that is essential for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Now that North Korea has been expressing to the international community its willingness for complete denuclearization and has helped create a favorable environment through its recent decision to close its nuclear test site and stop test launches of mid-to-long-range missiles without any conditional request, it is of utmost importance to proceed to the practical resolution of the denuclearization issue through the inter-Korean Summit and a subsequent summit between the United States and North Korea. In this context, the Summit is expected to reaffirm the North’s will for denuclearization and lay the foundation upon which substantial progress can be made concerning denuclearization, especially in the run-up to the U.S.-North Korea Summit.

Concerning Peace on the Korean Peninsula, the ROK Government aims to substitute the past sixty years of an unstable armistice with a permanent peace regime. It is imperative to end the 65-year-long armistice and move forward to the conclusion of a peace treaty through the declaration of the end of the Korean War. In this context, the summit will deal with a variety of issues and measures regarding the establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, including those aimed at formally ending the 1950-1953 Korean War, preventing accidental military conflicts, easing military tension, and building trust between the South and North.

The two sides will also discuss broad aspects of inter-Korean relations including dialogue, exchange and cooperation, and humanitarian support, while carrying on the legacies of the July 4th South-North Joint Statement (1972); the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (1991);  the June 15th South-North Joint Declaration (2000); and the October 4th Declaration (2007).

It being the case, realistically speaking, we are now only crossing a threshold to a dialogue. It is too early to promise success. Moreover, we can only talk about success when not only the inter-Korean summit but also the first-ever summit between North Korea and the United States succeed. It is true that the successful staging of the two summits will be marked as a milestone for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and the establishment of the permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula aspired to and supported by the international community. It is also true that bold imagination and creative solutions are needed to turn the two summits into a success rather than repeating past failures.

In any case, the ultimate purpose is the mutual prosperity of the two Koreas. No matter whether it is denuclearization or peace, what we intend to achieve is a Korean Peninsula where two Koreas prosper together. However, given the strategic importance and complexity of the issues related, this has to be accompanied by improvements in relations between North Korea and the United States and between North Korea and Japan. Maybe it would only be possible with China’s support and participation as well. Even if an agreement is made between the two Koreas, and then between North Korea and the United States, the implementation of any agreement would be possible only when there is participation by all surrounding nations. In this way, support by the international community constitutes part and parcel of the success of the Summits and their ensuing process.

It would be best if an agreement is made on the big picture all at once through the inter-Korean summit or the summit between North Korea and the United States. Even if that does not happen, it is apparent that they should create a momentum that could drive continued dialogue. We will continue to make endeavors to this end.

The Korean Peninsula and Afghanistan share the same desperate need for peace. Decades-long conflicts with seemingly intractable opponents have been hindering Korea and Afghanistan from achieving peace and prosperity. Nevertheless, a robust and sustained political will, combined with reliable capability and strong international support, can bring about a significant change even in the hardest situation. As such, it is of paramount importance never to give up and to stay optimistic.

The ROK Government has been persistently making efforts to engage North Korea. Even when North Korea turned a deaf ear to the call of the international community to stop provocations with nuclear tests and missile launches, we did not let up on our pursuit of engagement. As a case in point, it was in the midst of North Korea’s continuous provocations that President Moon unveiled his peace initiative in Berlin in July last year. While maintaining a strong security posture based on the solid ROK-U.S. alliance and national defense, we also exerted incessant and strenuous efforts to enlist the support of the international community, including the stakeholders of the issues of the Korean Peninsula.

The upcoming inter-Korean Summit is an outcome of these combined efforts, and it cannot be too much emphasized that in the entire process running up to this summit, the ROK Government, as the party directly concerned, has taken the lead, holding on to the belief in Korea-led initiative, first and foremost. As the saying goes, Heaven helps those who help themselves. So does the international community.

It is my sincere and heartfelt hope that this success story on the Korean Peninsula will be also replicated in Afghanistan whose people are second to none when it comes to perseverance and resilience, against all odds, with the recently launched Afghan-led/Afghan-owned comprehensive peace initiative to which ROK renders its full and unwavering support.

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