Examining inter-Korean relations 200 days after Panmunjom Declaration

Posted on : 2018-11-15 10:28 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
36% of Panmunjom and Pyongyang declarations implemented
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after announcing the Panmunjom Declaration on Apr. 27. (photo pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands after announcing the Panmunjom Declaration on Apr. 27. (photo pool)

Nov. 12 marked the 200th day since the leaders of South and North Korea met on Apr. 27 and signed the Panmunjom Declaration. Then in September, they met again in Pyongyang and adopted the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, which further fleshed out the agreements reached in the Panmunjom Declaration.

36% of the two statements implemented, 52% being deliberated

Examining progress on the 25 agreements in the Panmunjom Declaration and the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, we find that nine (36%) of them have been completely implemented, while 13 (52%) of them continue to be deliberated, either at a preliminary level or in subcommittee. There were also two agreements (8%) that failed (holding an inter-Korean event on June 15 and a performance by a Pyongyang art troupe in Seoul in October), while there is one agreement whose implementation is contingent on other factors (deliberating the questions of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, resuming tourism to Mt. Kumgang and creating a joint economic zone on the West Sea and a joint tourism zone on the East Sea).

The inter-Korean agreements generally fall into three categories, namely inter-Korean relations, easing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Of the three categories, inter-Korean relations by far represent the greatest number of the agreements, or 17 out of 25. For the same reason, more agreements in this category have been implemented (seven) than other categories, and more are also being deliberated (seven).

While various subcommittees are convening, one notable shortcoming is the lack of tangible progress on the humanitarian issue of the divided families, including opening a permanent reunion hall and allowing video chats and recorded messages. This is a time-sensitive matter, given the advanced age of the divided family members.

Groundbreaking for roads and railways and the end-of-war declaration within the year?

Among the agreements in the Panmunjom and Pyongyang Statements, the groundbreaking ceremony for connecting roads and railways and the end-of-war declaration were stipulated as taking place within the year, which doesn’t leave much time before their implementation deadline. The US holds that South Korea must ask and receive approval from the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea before it can hold the roads and railways survey and groundbreaking. Currently, the South Korean government is deliberating with the US to work out this issue.

In the Apr. 27 Panmunjom Declaration, South and North Korea said there would be no more war on the Korean Peninsula. While some argue that this basically constituted a declaration of the end of the Korean War by South and North Korea, the key is for North Korea and the US to make such a declaration and to end their hostile relations. There were hopes that, if North Korea and the US held working-level and high-level talks that led to a concrete denuclearization process, it could also accelerate the implementation of the inter-Korean agreements. But North Korea and the US delayed the high-level talks they had scheduled for Nov. 8 and have yet to reschedule them.

Steady progress on easing inter-Korean military tensions

The implementation ratio is the highest in the area of easing inter-Korean military tensions. The agreement in the Panmunjom Declaration to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea” gained traction with a supplementary military agreement that was adopted on Sept. 19.

On Oct. 27, South Korea, North Korea and the UN Command completed their joint inspection of the withdrawal of both sides’ firearms and guard posts (GPs) from the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, and it’s likely that tourists will soon have free access to the area. On Nov. 1, South and North Korea halted all hostile military exercises around the military demarcation line (ground, air and sea).

On Nov. 5, the two sides carried out a joint waterway survey to enable joint usage of the estuaries of the Han and Imjin rivers. Work is currently underway on removing mines and building a road to enable the two sides to recover remains around Arrowhead Hill (Hwasalmeori) in Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province. And Nov. 10 marked the completion of the probationary removal of all firearms, equipment and troops from 22 surveillance guard posts (11 on each side).

Peace regime on the Korean Peninsula depends on North Korea-US negotiations

Unfortunately, no agreements have been implemented yet in the area of building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The problem is that this area requires the cooperation not only of South and North Korea but also of Korea’s neighbors and parties to the armistice agreement, including the US and China. The crux of this issue is North Korea’s denuclearization, a matter wholly dependent upon the results of North Korea-US dialogue.

The South Korean government is concentrating on helping the US gain a better understanding of North Korea’s position. The working group that South Korea and the US have agreed to establish is also likely to facilitate the search for a compromise between the US and North Korea as South Korea identifies and communicates the two sides’ respective positions.

“Despite the difficulty of South Korea surmounting the sanctions on its own when the US simply rejects [inter-Korean cooperation projects] without grounds or conditions, South Korea needs to once more take the lead in pushing forward inter-Korean relations,” said Professor Kim Jun-hyeong, a professor at Handong Global University.

“We need to be thinking about how we can overcome the deadlock between North Korea and the US by using various means, such as dispatching a special envoy, to figure out what North Korea wants in its negotiations with the US. If we manage to do that, the inter-Korean cooperation issue will resolve itself,” said Hong Min, head of North Korean research at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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