Six months ago, the question in the minds of most international observers was not if there would be war in the Korean Peninsula but when. Most alarming of all was whether such a war would be fought with conventional or nuclear weapons. The choice and use of either leads to the same outcome — catastrophe. Thousands of North Korea’s artillery pieces are known to be staring down Seoul, South Korea’s capital, less than 35 miles away.
Regular American and South Korean military maneuvers were seen in North Korea as existential threats which, in turn, fuelled the ramping up of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and the inter-continental ballistic missiles to deliver them. They had gone to great lengths to ensure their missiles would fly high and long to deliver their weapons, especially into the United States, the country the North Koreans hold responsible for all the threats to their security.
Now, these deadly threats seem to have been turned on a dime by the Inter-Korean summit of April 27, 2018.
Contrary to every expectation, the world watched in utter astonishment as the North Korean leader, Chairman Kim Jon-un, contradicted popular stereotypes and struck instant accord with South Korean President, Moon Jae-in.
It was inspiring to see how both men rose beyond the traditional enmity that has dogged the relationships of both countries for decades and smiled at each other, held hands and pledged a commitment to a new era in the relationship of both countries. Chairman Kim hailed the dawning of an “age of peace” when the two Koreas could no longer be separated because “we share the same blood.”
Before they signed what is now known as the “Panmunjom Declaration of Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” both leaders performed a symbolic tree planting ceremony to usher in a new era. They had a long walk and held a one-on-one meeting in the demilitarised zone. Finally, they set for themselves two lofty goals: the formal ending of the Korean War and a peace treaty.
This, they promised, must be done this year. They also pledged to completely rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Observers noted that they looked less like sworn enemies than members of the same family separated by a generation.
We heartily commend the two Korean leaders for rising up to the occasion at a time the world was fearful of a conflagration in the Korean Peninsula. We urge that this rapprochement be sustained with the hope that it would issue forth the eventual reunification of the two Koreas. Both sides have abundant supply of pessimists and hardliners who would find every reason to return the two countries back to former belligerency. Both leaders must stand firm and lead the people to rediscover their long lost fraternity and millions of unbreakable family ties that bind them as one people.
The South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, it needs to be said, deserves a special accolade. He has been the organiser, motivator and facilitator. In addition to his oft-stated goals of peace, he is probably the most experienced high official of government with a depth of knowledge and experience in these matters, having been the chief presidential secretary to former South Korean President, Roh Moon-hyun. He had then led the preparations for the President Roh’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il (Chairman Kim’s father) in 2007. President Roh later won a Nobel Prize partly for his work for Korean peace.
The journey to a united Korea is going to be long and hard, given 70 years of war and animosity. But it must not discourage these leaders who seem to understand the yearnings of their people for unity. Good signs began at the last Winter Olympics when both countries sometimes fielded a single team. It received a great impetus by Chairman Kim and the high level delegation he sent to the games.
The Koreans seem surrounded if not besieged by several great powers – China, Japan, Russia and,of course, the United States – which may not share the same goals and may, indeed, be opposed to the reunification of Korea. But the world must realise that it is in the interest of international peace and security to have a united, peaceful Korea.