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During the three-day bilateral summit in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in issued a joint statement at a media conference (18th Sept) on the September Pyongyang Joint Declaration, an agreement to improve inter-Korean relations. As reported byVox News, the agreement addresses three areas – military, economic and societal.
Pyongyang and Seoul plan to ease tensions along the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) by withdrawing 11 guard posts and improving communication channels. Secondly, the building of railways and roads along both coasts to transport commercial products across borders will improve economic ties. Also, as a sign of goodwill, the two Koreas expressed interest in jointly bidding for the 2032 Summer Olympic Games. South Korean President Moon also revealed that Kim accepted his invitation to visit Seoul, the meeting speculated to take place this year.
Pyongyang made two pledges regarding denuclearization. South Korean President Moon told reporters “the North agreed to permanently close the Tongchang-ri missile engine test site and missile launch facility in the presence of experts from relevant nations.” According to Stratfor, North Korea also suggested it would assure the permanent closure of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, provided the United States takes corresponding measures.
In response to the joint declaration, Geng Shuang, Spokesman of China’s Foreign Ministry, expressed China’s approval and support for the positive efforts, stating that “China hopes the DPRK and the ROK could actively implement consensus in the declaration, make continuous efforts to promote interaction and cooperation between the south and north sides of the and play a positive role in a political resolution to the Korean Peninsula issue and lasting peace in the region.” However, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stressed that without simultaneous progress between Washington and Pyongyang, negotiations to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula will not be successful. Notably, the majority in Washington doubts Kim’s willingness to relinquish his nuclear program, as reported by the AP on September 21st.
Since the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, there is still an impasse between Washington and Pyongyang. Before moving forward with denuclearization, North Korea expects the Trump administration to sign a peace declaration to end the 1953 Korean Armistice, and thus the Korean war. However, the Trump administration has yet to sign such a treaty, and instead pushes for tangible concessions, proposing that North Korea adhere to a formal denuclearization timeline, demanding the surrender of 60 to 70 percent of its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang rejects this proposal.
Whether or not the pledges materialize, the joint declaration is a landmark achievement in the peace process for the two Koreas. Additionally, it signifies a revival and another chance for denuclearization talks, with Seoul trying to preserve the momentum.