What will the Panmunjom Declaration bring to North and South Korea?

The handshake of the leaders of North and South Korea, held on April 27 at the border point of Panmunjom, is an event that was hastily given an optimistic assessment not only on the Korean Peninsula but throughout the world. What will agreements between two leaders give? Read in the analytical material of "".
Astana city03 May , 09:04

The relaxation of the situation after the period of tension observed between the DPRK, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America as its ally, really happened very effectively. More than 11 years have passed since the last meeting of the leaders of the divided Korean nation, and the current event is not an ordinary incident, but an occasion for the hope of representatives of the Korean people on one and the other side of the thirty-seventh parallel, which divided thousands of families in 1945. Public opinion polls also speak about this: according to the South Korean rating agency RealMeter, 64.7% of respondents trust North Korea's promises to build good neighborly relations, while only 28.3% are skeptical. At the same time, more than half (52.1%) of respondents changed their attitude in favor of Pyongyang under the impression of recent events.

The text of the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula, signed by the leaders of two Korean states following the meeting, has many statements that can really be considered breakthroughs. Thus, President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea assert that bilateral relations "boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity" and are ready to "encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels in order to rejuvenate the sense of national reconciliation and unity". In particular, the states confirmed that they will continue to participate in international sporting events as one team (this method was used at various competitions in the 2000s, and last time at PyeongСhang 2018 Winter Olympic Games), and also jointly represent the Korean people at cultural events.

The declaration sets out the intentions to proceed with reunion programs for the separated families, and as of May 2, 2018 to transform the demilitarized zone into a peace zone in a genuine sense by ceasing all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets, in the areas along the Military Demarcation Line. At the bilateral level, the work will be undertaken to prevent accidental military clashes and guarantee safe fishing activities in the border areas.

But the main thing in the document is the expressed desire to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The Panmunjom Declaration records the "very meaningful and crucial" nature of the DPRK's efforts, which, if ideally, will lead to the abandonment of this state from its nuclear program, which has been implemented since 2005. This is a breakthrough statement, even though North Korea has repeatedly used "nuclear" rhetoric for political manipulation and humanitarian assistance. In support of the seriousness of intentions, the rhetoric of the North Korean state press speaks: for the first time there were reports of impending denuclearization.

In addition, the Declaration sets out the formats for interaction between the Korean states: in addition to the traditional bilateral format, the tripartite (including the USA) and the quadrilateral (with the participation of the PRC) will also be used. The United States and China are key allies of South and North Korea, respectively, are the largest players in the region, on which the success of Panmunjom largely depends. And now both sides are stepping up: on May 2-3, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi will pay a visit to Pyongyang. Donald Trump also said that he will meet with the North Korean leader in the coming weeks. Perhaps, it is during this period that it will be decided by what means and under what conditions the inter-Korean world will be achieved. Thus, one thing is obvious: the negotiation process is launched, and this is already a great achievement.

Despite the maximally even and optimistic character of the Panmunjom Declaration, it is necessary to realize that the problems accumulated as a result of fundamentally different trajectories of the development of two Korea since the end of World War II cannot be resolved overnight. With the rapprochement of the Korean states, an ideological question will inevitably arise; significant economic differences can also become an obstacle in the search for mutual understanding. It is also unclear what are the preferences that the North Korean side will receive after abandoning its nuclear program.

In general, the declaration only reinforces the intentions of two sides to establish relationships, while the process of restoring ties can take decades, even if there are no negative factors, both external and internal (in the situation with the Korean question, this sounds rather implausible). In any case, the commitments undertaken by the DPRK and the Republic of Korea in the short term will reduce the glow around the Korean issue.

For Kazakhstan, the solution of the Korean question is significant primarily from the point of view of nuclear issues. Our country stands for nuclear non-proliferation and, in the future, for a world free of nuclear weapons. From this perspective, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would be a huge step towards nuclear disarmament: building confidence-building measures between North and South Korea can be an important precedent that demonstrates how mutual respect and non-military measures can replace the costly and dangerous maintenance of nuclear parity. Pyongyang's refusal to test at the Phungeri test site (regardless of the truthfulness of the reports that appeared in the press, its inadequacy after the September tests of 2017) contributed to a movement towards a world without nuclear weapons, one of whose leaders is our country.


Anastasiya Reshetnyak