Panmunjom Declaration: A Step Towards Peace In The Korean Peninsula

In the first inter-Korean summit to have taken place since 2007, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in signed a historic joint declaration on Friday, vowing to formally end the 1950s Korean War and pursue “complete denuclearisation” of the region. In this agreement, the leaders pledged to sign a peace treaty later this year – one that would involve both the United States, and possibly China.

The summit consisted primarily of scheduled talks and symbolic gestures, in which Kim invited Moon to briefly step into North Korean land. The historic summit, which took place in Panmunjom village along the demilitarized zone between the two countries, was the first time a North Korean leader has ever stepped into South Korea since the informal end of the Korean War in 1953. The war had been ended by an armistice agreement, which is still in place today, even though South Korea still has yet to add a signatory to it.

The Panmunjom Declaration is the result of two rounds of talks between the two Korean leaders, and following a joint tree-planting ceremony symbolising peace and prosperity in the divided region. After signing the declaration, Kim addressed everyone saying, “I feel that we are part of one family, and both countries will have a new policy of cooperation. After years of disputes, we are here today to say that nothing will make us different again.” Moon, too, reiterated such sentiments, declaring that, “Kim Jong-un and I declare that there will be no more war on the Korean Peninsula, and a new age of peace has begun.”

As part of the agreement, the Koreas pledged that they would work towards reunification by refraining from the use of force and by deepening their ties. It was also decided that a communications post will be established in Kaesong, North Korea, and both loudspeaker broadcasts and the distribution of propaganda leaflets will end on May 1st. Moon is due to visit North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, in the coming months to further discuss plans. However, regarding denuclearisation, while both Kim and Moon have pledged accordingly, the text of the agreement itself does not include specified measures or a timeline. Without such details, it is impossible to say how or when exactly the denuclearisation will proceed, thereby raising some concerns regarding the reliability of the agreement.

From a wider point of view, the international community also welcomed the agreement, with UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stating that, “many around the world were moved by the powerful imagery of the two leaders coming together to advance harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula.” China’s foreign ministry too issued a statement saying it hoped all parties could maintain the momentum for dialogue and jointly promote the resolution process.

However, Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown in Beijing reports that the Chinese, while responding well, were also being “very cautious.” According to Brown, “the joint declaration talks about one country, which seems to point towards a unified Korea.” This may be problematic for the Chinese government who “really worries about a unified Korea right on its doorstep” as “it would certainly mean, potentially, that China would lose influence over the Korean Peninsula.” It is worth noting that the North Korean regime almost entirely depends on support from China, which has not yet pushed for denuclearization, and so, their silence on the topic may undermine the peace process.

Regardless, the Panmunjom Declaration can be considered excellent news, as it is one of the biggest steps towards peace that has been taken thus far in the Korean peninsula. Moreover, both North and South Korean leaders should continue to strengthen ties and work towards denuclearisation through active dialogue, the beginnings of which has already started course. Further discussions should lead to more definite plans, especially in terms of how and when denuclearisation will proceed. Other influential parties, such as the US and China, should also pursue a stronger stance on denuclearisation in order to accelerate the plans, and to ensure that the peace treaty can be successfully signed in the coming months. As of now, however, peace between the Korean countries seem more possible than it has in a long time.