The third-ever inter-Korean summit was held on April 27th 2018, producing the ‘Panmunjom Declaration’. The summit was the first to be held in 11 years since the second inter-Korean summit held in October 2007. It carries great significance in that it has ushered in an era of ‘peace’ and enabled inter-Korean trust-building. There are various factors home and abroad that thawed the inter-Korean relations and thus propelled the success of the recently-held inter-Korean summit. President Moon Jae-in’s government has remained consistent in its policies to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace, the international community has toughened economic sanctions on North Korea, and the Trump administration has pressed ahead with policies to pressure North Korea, even referring to the possibility of military action. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in response, declared that the regime had achieved the goal of ‘completing the state nuclear force’ in 2017 and showed his will to send North Korean delegates to the Pyeongchang Winter Games during his 2018 New Year’s speech. In order to figure out the reason behind the shift in North Korea’s stance and strategy, an analysis of a ”new strategic line” declared by Kim at the 3rd plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party on April 20 2018 would be necessary. This paper therefore aims to assess the Panmunjom Declaration and the achievements of the third inter-Korean summit, and delve into the factors home that have compelled North Korea’s decision to improve its ties and hold summit meeting with the ROK, with specific focus on the regime’s ”new strategic line”. To that end, the achievements of the third inter-Korean summit will be assessed based on the comparison with previous inter-Korean summits. Furthermore, a review of the system of the State Affairs Commission and the change in the relations between North Korea’s party, military and government will be provided, based on the analysis of the written decision adopted at the 3rd plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party on April 20 and the ‘Socialist Constitution’ revised in June 29 2016, so as to determine why Pyongyang is trying to thaw its relations with Seoul.
II. PANMUNJOM DECLARATION AND ITS IMPLICATIONS
1. Improve inter-Korean ties
Under Article 1 of the Panmunjom Declaration declared by President Moon and North Korean leader Kim, South and North Korea agreed to hold dialogue and negotiations in various fields including at high level, establish a joint liaison office with resident representatives of both sides in Kaesong, encourage more active cooperation, exchanges, visits and contacts at all levels, actively implement the projects previously agreed in the 2007 October 4 declaration to promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation. The establishment of a joint liaison office in Kaesong, one of the most significant outcomes of the Panmunjom Declaration, is a new accomplishment which was not seen in the two previous summit talks. The office will act as a channel of communi-cation between the two Koreas along with the hotline between Moon and Kim. Its establishment seeks to restore and actualize the agreement for such an office (Chapter 1, Article 7, of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement) that was reached during high-level inter-Korean talks in 1992. More active cooperation at all levels includes the reunion of separated families on August 15, but it is likely to be a one-time event when compared to the 2007 October 4 declaration stipulating the exchange of video messages between separated families and regular reunions at Mountain Kumgang. The two sides, therefore, are discussing the exchange of letters among divided families on a regular basis as a follow-up measure. The Panmunjom Declaration’s stipulation of ‘balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation’ indicates that the two leaders have agreed to gear the inter-Korean relationship toward one that can contribute to North Korea’s ”new strategic line” focusing on economic development.
2. Ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula
Article 2 of the Panmunjom Declaration pertains to the easing of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, aimed at alleviating the acute military tension and practically eliminating the danger of war on the peninsula. To that end, South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain (Clause 1) and agreed to devise a practical scheme to turn the areas around the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea into a maritime peace zone in order to prevent accidental military clashes and guarantee safe fishing activities (Clause 2). The second clause of Article 2 holds meaning in that it touches on the rare mention of the NLL in the joint inter-Korean declaration.
3. Peace-regime building and denuclearization
Article 3 stipulates that South and North Korea will actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, and bringing an end to the current state of armistice and establishing a robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is a historical mission that must not be delayed any further. In this direction both leaders reaffirmed the Non-Aggression Agreement (1991 December Agreement) that precludes the use of force in any form against each other, and agreed to strictly adhere to this Agreement. To that end, the two Koreas agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner (Clause 2) and confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula (Clause 4).
III. ASSESSMENT OF THE THIRD INTER-KOREAN SUMMIT
1. Peacemaking and de facto unification
It can be assessed that the provision about turning the DMZ into a ”peace zone” is aimed at ‘peacemaking’ to achieve peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas, which would serve as a starting point for putting an end to the history of division.
On top of that, the establishment of a Seoul – Pyongyang hotline and a joint liaison office will lay a groundwork for inter-Korean trust-building, inheriting and further fostering the ”unification plans for a national Korean community” in 1989 and ”unification plans for an ethnic community” in 1994. The joint liaison office is expected to facilitate inter-Korean economic cooperation since one of its projects would be about carrying out a joint investigation on the current state of North Korea’s infrastructure.
2. Affirm Kim Jong Un’s commitment towards ‘denuclearization’
With regards to the issue of denuclearization, the two sides affirmed that the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a policy pursued by the current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, rather than being regarded as his predecessors’ policy.
3. Agreement to end the Korean war within this year: accelerating the pace of denuclearization negotiation
President Moon and the North Korean leader Kim have agreed to end the Korean war later this year and establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, indicating that the two sides will expedite the denuclearization process and create an environment to provide security guarantees to North Korea.
4. Laying out the vision for inter-Korean economic cooperation and the absence of measures for implementation
The two leaders agreed to connect and modernize the Gyeongui line and East Coast line as part of the efforts to enhance inter-Korean economic ties, but details are yet to be laid bare with regards to the economic cooperation between the two Koreas. Nevertheless, connecting the partially disconnected line along the east coast may clash with the international sanctions targeting North Korea, so the implementation of this project may proceed after the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea’s review.
IV. REASONS FOR NORTH KOREA’S CHANGE IN STANCE:
‘NEW STRATEGIC LINE’
1. Stability of Kim Jong Un’s regime
The 7th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea convened in May 2016 formalized Kim Jong Un’s succession, reaffirming the stability of the North Korean regime. Kim’s consolidation of grip on power had reached its peak as the Supreme People’s Assembly revised North Korea’s Constitution to create the ‘State Affairs Commission’, with Mr. Kim as its chairman. It replaces the ‘National Defense Commission’, the governing organ under Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, who ruled North Korea until his death in 2011. Such strengthening of Kim’s power base has enabled him to suppress the voices of opposition to the change in North Korea’s policy stance.
2. North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear program
North Korea officially proclaimed its nuclear status to the world in the 2018 new year address by Kim and in a resolution passed at the third plenary meeting of the seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party held on April 20. North Korea stated it had completed the miniaturization and lightening of the ultra-large nuclear weapon and their means of delivery and fully realized the nuclear weaponization, which has enabled the adoption of its ‘new strategic line’ focusing on economic development. By proclaiming its ‘strategic state’ status, meaning North Korea can fully defend itself against external aggressions, the regime has finalized the steps for consolidation of Kim’s seizure of power. It appears that North Korea considers its advanced nuclear program as a leverage to gain a favorable footing in the upcoming negotiations to discuss denuclearization.
3. Toughening sanctions and the need to come up with a new strategic line
Economic sanctions imposed on North Korea in 2017 included banning the country’s exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean laborers abroad. Economic sanctions affect the North Korea elites in the short run, but in the long run they threaten the livelihoods of the North Korean people. This is what Kim is concerned about, as his regime may become unstable when the livelihoods of the people are troubled by economic sanctions. Hence, Kim Jong Un declared North Korea’s new strategic line aimed at socialist economic construction at the third plenary meeting of the seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. It was also announced at the party that North Korea will make efforts to create international environment favorable for the socialist economic construction and facilitate close contact and active dialogue with neighboring countries and the international community. By doing so, Pyongyang made it clear that its latest moves to thaw ties with Seoul and suspend its nuclear program are aimed at achieving economic development.
4. Military reshuffle and the change in the relations between North Korea’s party, military and government
Kim Jong Un, since coming to power, has strengthened the function of the Workers’ Party and the Party has played a leading role in running the state. This eventually has made the Party to secure a strong control of the military. Thus, policy directions of North Korea under Kim Jong Un have been decided through the political bureau sessions and the plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. North Korean military elites were reshuffled during this process, and the clout of the military has diminished accordingly. Furthermore, the Cabinet of North Korea has become highly responsible for formulating economic policies along with its establishment of strong political authority and presence. The military’s intervention in economic affairs was minimized as a result, which was a significant change for the relationship between the North’s military and the government. Such changes made in the relationship between the party, military and the government is well reflected in the creation of the ‘State Affairs Commission (SAC)’, established under a revised constitution on June 29th 2016. The regime’s new supreme policy guidance organ SAC has dropped the ‘Songun revolutionary line (military first policy)’, indicating that ‘Songun politics’ is no longer North Korea’s ruling ideology. The ‘Songun politics’ is losing ground for the following reason. The advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program in the Kim Jong Un era was made by the Korean People’s Army Strategic Force. Since the ‘strategic rocket forces’ belongs to the Central Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, the Party secures strong control of the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Given that North Korea’s military is reshuffled to place the ‘strategic rocket forces’ as its major division, Kim Jong Un appears to have thought that he can suppress the military’ s opposition to the shift in North Korea’s policy direction.
V. POLICY CONSIDERATIONS
1. Expedite North Korea’s denuclearization
The South Korean government should expedite the process of denuclearization negotiations with North Korea and promptly implement the agreed measures to prevent the regime from resorting to its tactic of brinkmanship.
2. Make effective use of Seoul – Pyongyang hotline and joint liaison office
The South Korean government should strive to utilize the Seoul – Pyongyang hotline and joint liaison office to deal with various variables and to act as an active mediator between the US and North Korea.
3. Make discussions with the US on the deployment of US strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula
Negotiations over achieving ‘Verifiable’ dismantlement in North Korea may hit obstacles, so the South Korean government should be prepared for this kind of situation to prevent it from adversely affecting the whole negotiation. Since the deployment of US strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula could possibly hamper smooth negotiations, the South Korean government should closely coordinate with the US to decide on the details of this issue.
4. Consider China’s role in peace agreement discussions
It should be noted that China has a part to play in the process of building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. When the formal end to the Korean War is declared, four-party talks including the ROK, the DPRK, the US and China should be held as soon as possible to facilitate the peace regime-building process.
1 The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and are not to be construed as representing those of The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS)
Research Professor, Center for Diplomatic History Studies, The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, Seoul, Republic of Korea