South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in front of the Military Demarcation Line in the Panmunjeom Joint Security Area on Apr. 27. (by Kim Kyung-ho
On Apr. 27, the leaders of South and North Korea met at the House of Peace at Panmunjeom, with the fate of the Korean Peninsula hanging in the balance. The two sides completed exhaustive preparations to ensure that this historical inter-Korean summit is pulled off without a hitch, even carrying out joint rehearsals over the past three days. Over 3,000 reporters from South Korea and around the world have their eyes and ears fixed on Panmunjeom, covering developments at the summit. The entire world is watching the meeting of the two leaders. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must declare their commitment to peace before the world and open a new chapter in history.
Although the inter-Korean summit being held today is the third such meeting since 2000, its significance surpasses that of previous summits because of the grave circumstances on the Korean Peninsula. The outcome of the summit will determine whether Koreans put their days of hostility and enmity behind them and move toward a future of peace and prosperity, or whether they walk back into the ominous clouds of war. Unlike summits of the past, in which South Korean leaders visited Pyongyang, the North Korean leader will be crossing the military demarcation line into South Korea for the first time in the seventy years since Korea was divided. Panmunjeom is being transformed from a symbol of confrontation and discord into a venue for peace and reconciliation. That by itself is enough for this summit to be remembered for making a mark on inter-Korean relations.
This inter-Korean summit was made possible by the persistent effort of the South Korean government. Since his inauguration in May 2017, Moon has continually made overtures of peace to the North. During a speech in Berlin in July , he unveiled a grand plan for peace. Even while North Korea and the US were trading barbs about “fire and fury,” Moon held to the firm and unwavering principle of peace. Those efforts bore fruit in the New Year as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was turned into the “Peace Olympics” with a unified inter-Korean team. During that period, the South Korean government orchestrated inter-Korean meetings and arranged dialogue between North Korea and the US. The result is today’s meeting.
Among the main items on the agenda of the inter-Korean summit, the one that has attracted the most interest is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is designed to establish lasting peace. While it is clear that the issue of denuclearization is fundamentally something that must be resolved by North Korea and the US, it is also clearly an issue for South Koreans, in light of how severely the security crisis on the Korean Peninsula impacts the lives of those living in the country.
Even if the ultimate solution to denuclearization is left as a task for the North Korea-US summit, it is both necessary and achievable for the leaders of South and North Korea to arrive at a substantial agreement about the direction and the timeframe of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during their summit. If those leaders create a roadmap for denuclearization that can reassure the international community, it will also be possible to have a concrete discussion of ways to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula based on that roadmap. We also look forward to South and North Korea making a declaration about the end of the war in which they announce their determination to retire the armistice and move toward a peace regime.
This summit will also serve as a guide for the North Korea-US summit. The degree of success that is achieved in the inter-Korean summit will be a bellwether for the success or failure of the North Korea-US summit, which is likely to take place in late May or early June. If the leaders of South and North Korea provide a clear direction toward denuclearization and peace, they will allay some Americans’ concerns about the North Korea-US summit and increase the likelihood of that summit’s success.
As the slogan of “peace, a new beginning” suggests, South and North Korea stand at a critical juncture where they can part ways with a past checkered with conflict and walk together toward a new day. On the shoulders of the two leaders is the hope for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. We join with all Koreans to pray that the efforts that South and North Korea have made to pave the way toward reconciliation and coexistence will lead to great and conclusive results.
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