Meeting on the Korean Peninsula Amidst Activity at North Korean Missile Facility

North and South Korea have renewed dialogue on Tuesday the 31st of July in the Korean demilitarised zone (DMZ) as a follow up to their summit in April, Reuters reports. The talks are aimed at furthering the agreement stemming from the historic meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s leader Kim Jong-un to cease “all hostile acts” between the countries. The agenda will range from a reduction of troops and weapons at the DMZ to coordinated efforts to retrieve remains of soldiers from the Korean War. North Korea see calling an official end to the 1950-53 conflict which was settled with an armistice and not the more desirable peace-treaty as an important step in improving relations between the two nations, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile the United States has played an uncertain role in the progression of these talks, despite President Donald Trump’s triumphant words after his summit with Kim Jong-un. The US’s failure to obtain any firm commitment from North Korea and the subsequent efforts of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have not been well received by Pyongyang. His so-called “gangster-like” behaviour, insisting on denuclearisation apparently without considering an official end to the Korean War has been said to be a sticking point. This comes as an unnamed US senior official has said that activity has been detected at a nuclear missile factory in Sanumdong, the ABC reports.

The lead negotiators on both sides have stated that their priorities are to build trust and deescalate tensions between the two Koreas. Kim Do-gyun from the South’s Defence Ministry has promised “substantive” measures to this effect while his Northern counterpart Ahn Ik-san said that the two sides agree on “some issues”, The Globe and Mail states. While the messages from the negotiators have been diplomatic, the North’s state media has been critical of the South’s efforts accusing them of “wasting time” by sticking to the US line of tying sanction relief to denuclearisation without “taking a single action” themselves.

While the steps discussed at the summit remain promising for the purposes of improving relations, they mark only the beginning of what should be a concerted diplomatic effort. Unfortunately, the US approach to the issue has been out of step with that of the South Korean one. It is justifiable to continue the sanctions on the North, but the US has failed to offer the North a compelling reason to denuclearise. By offering to play a role in ending the Korean War jointly with the North and South, the US would have something to offer the North in exchange for their cooperation.

If the US does not seize this opportunity then it may be seized by another, far closer power. China has the potential to arbitrate such an agreement in the US’s stead. Yang Jiechi, a Chinese State Councillor, recently travelled to South Korea to discuss a number of issues. It was not confirmed or denied whether the North Korean negotiations were discussed but Reuters reports that a senior official in Seoul is open to Chinese involvement in a peace-treaty process.

The talks between the two Koreas represent a promising start to a long-term process in North Korea. Despite the US President’s haste, a diplomatic solution will have to be gradually charted and coordination with South Korea most importantly is a vital component. Offering to consider a peace-treaty would mark a long overdue finish to a war which has been a spectre at the feast of relations on the Korean peninsula for the last 60 years.

Ethan Beringen