A Historic Moment

Beijing Review | 作者: Shi Yongming | 时间: 2018-05-17 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Last year, the Korean Peninsula remained under a cloud of imminent nuclear war. But today, the situation has evolved into one of the most dazzling highlights of the current chaotic world. On April 27, the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong Un, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) President Moon Jae-in met in the border village of Panmunjom and signed the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.

In the declaration, the two leaders solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula, launching a new era of peace. The declaration also affirmed that North and South Korea hold the common goal of realizing a nuclear-free peninsula through complete denuclearization.

A historical view

The easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula was welcomed by the international community. However, based on past experiences, some expressed doubts over the peaceful scene, wondering how long it will last. Nevertheless, a historical view needs to be adopted to accurately understand and grasp the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

The nuclear issue was the focus of international attention during the Kim-Moon meeting, the third summit between the two Koreas, coming 11 years after the second. However, the underlying theme of the meeting was the relationship between the two Koreas and the future of the Korean Peninsula. In order to solve the problems, it is not enough to solve only the concrete contradictions between the North and South; what is needed is a historical perspective.

Before the summit, Kim wrote in the Peace House guestbook that "a new history begins now, at the starting point of an era of peace," stating clearly the historic significance of the meeting. The Panmunjom Declaration also called 2018 a "momentous period of historical transformation on the Korean Peninsula." At a press conference after the meeting, Kim expressed his hope that a new era of peace and prosperity will be ushered in, adding that "our great history was created by the people and we must create more history."

If we are to say the Panmunjom summit has opened a new era for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, the starting point will be the moment of the signing of the Panmunjom Declaration.

However, efforts toward peace and prosperity on the peninsula actually began nearly 27 years ago and led to the signing of three documents, reaffirmed by the Panmunjom Declaration. The first was the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation Between South and North Korea in December 1991. This agreement stated that the two sides would endeavor to transform the present state of armistice into a solid state of peace between the North and the South. The two sides also agreed that they would not use force or undertake armed aggression against each other.

The second document was the Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula signed in 1992. In the Panmunjom Declaration, denuclearization doesn't just target the DPRK but the entire Korean Peninsula, as was already confirmed 26 years ago in this joint declaration.

The third document signed by both countries was the Declaration for Development of North-South Relations and Peace and Prosperity in 2007. According to the declaration, the DPRK and the ROK shall uphold and positively implement the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration adopted between the leaders of the two countries in June 2000 after various diplomatic meetings. In addition, it was agreed to discuss and advance the issue of reconstructing and repairing the railways in the DPRK between Kaesong and Sinuiju and the motorway between Kaesong and Pyongyang for joint use.

In addition to the commitment to peace in the agreements signed in the past 27 years, the Panmunjom Declaration also pledged to "bring a swift end to the Cold War relic of longstanding division and confrontation, to boldly approach a new era of national reconciliation, peace and prosperity." This indicates that to end the Cold War and usher in a new history is still the mission of the peninsula.

Progress of humankind

Throughout history, humankind has constantly marched toward a greater level of civilization. For instance, theocracy was replaced by nation-states in modern Europe, which was a marked progress. By the end of World War II, the notion of "sovereign equality" was established and mutual nonaggression was identified as the basic principle of international relations, which represented more progress.

However, at the end of the Cold War, the United States and the entire West claimed victory in the disintegration of the Soviet Union but ignored that the real reason behind the collapse of the Soviet Union was humankind's tendency to deal with international relations using non-confrontational means. The failure to recognize this progress has prompted the United States to embrace a new imperialism after the Cold War. The principle of nonaggression has been completely discarded by U.S. foreign policy, with the country willing to launch a war on a sovereign state in its own interests as long as it thinks it can win.

U.S. intervention has impeded peaceful progress on the Korean Peninsula after the Cold War and compelled the DPRK to resort to developing nuclear weapons. Now, at this historical turning point, the biggest problem still lies with Washington, which regards its high-pressure sanctions as the fundamental reason for the turn around rather than the progress of history.

Although U.S. President Donald Trump is optimistic about his upcoming meeting with Kim, presently he is only focused on the DPRK's denuclearization without any response to the goal of "establishing a permanent and solid peace regime" as stated in the Panmunjom Declaration. Moreover, while emphasizing that the DPRK should immediately and completely abandon nuclear weapons, the United States has appointed a belligerent ambassador to the ROK. In addition, it has continued to push for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system in the ROK, increasing the uncertainty of the upcoming Kim-Trump summit and the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, the relations between the two Koreas still face challenges imposed by the strategic choices made by this super power. It requires efforts from both the DPRK and the ROK to properly handle these challenges and push the Korean Peninsula onto a path of reconciliation, peace and denuclearization.

The progress of history is marked by the ever more harmonious relationship between human and nature, as well as between individuals and the group, and between different groups. Currently, the manner in which relations between different countries are handled will shape the future of human civilization. Post-Cold War history shows that the law of the jungle, where the strong rule the weak is still deep-rooted, indicating that humankind has not really entered the civilized era. The Korean situation is such an example, with roots going back to Japan's colonial expansion.

In 1910 Japan annexed the Korean Empire. Though the unconditional surrender of Japan after World War II led to the liberation of the Korean Peninsula temporarily, the fundamental shifts in global politics and ideology resulted in the division of the country into two occupied zones, with the United States taking over the southern part of the peninsula while the Soviet Union administering the north. After the Cold War, the situation on the Korean Peninsula evolved into a zero-sum game between U.S. hegemonism and the survival of the DPRK.

In order to create a new history and finally settle these problems, the Korean Peninsula must get rid of the shackles of its history. From the perspective of the remaining complex geopolitics in the area, the best option for the Korean Peninsula might be to become a neutral state in the region.




Shi Yongming is an associate researcher of Asia-Pacific issues, China Institute of International Studies.



Source: Beijing Review, May 10, 2018.