On April 27, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean President Kin Jong-un welcomed a new era of peace by closing their talks with a joint declaration and a hug, confirming their commitment to complete denuclearization of Korean Peninsula.
The armistice brought about in 1953 following a ceasefire by the Communist forces of the North and the US-backed forces of the South brought hostilities to end in the Korean War, but because both sides could never agree on a formal peace treaty, the two Koreas have technically been at war for 65 years now. The meeting at Panmunjom on the South Korean side of the ceasefire line between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, therefore, acquires huge import. It signals the possibility of a formal peace treaty being signed between the two Koreas within a year and keeps alive the hope of a unified Korea, a sentiment that has great traction on both sides, at a not-too-distant point in the future. For the world in general and East Asia in particular, the historic first summit between the two leaders holds the portents of a more responsible Pyongyang less prone to taking nuclear/missile maximalist positions.
There is no denying the fact, however, that Kim holds the aces for now. And that he, like his father and grandfather before him, as the absolute ruler of a totalitarian state, can pretty much do what he wants when the mood strikes him. Including a flight of fancy to the moon, as it were. In fact, his so-called ‘joke’ when he met President Moon on Friday, saying that he will ensure the latter doesn’t have his sleep disturbed early in the morning to rush to meetings of the National Security Council because of the North’s relentless and threatening missile-tests over the past 18 months clearly shows Kim knows his bargaining power rather well. For those, especially peaceniks who are looking upon this rapprochement with a rose-tinted hue as well as macho neo-conservatives who think it is President Donald J Trump’s threats and bluster have brought Kim to the negotiating table, it is worth iterating that the North Korean dictator is far more likely to have been influenced in his decision to extend a purported hand of peace to the South by Beijing’s recalibration of its geostrategic priorities than any other factor. China, the only major power which exercises some control over Kim, has in a series of moves after the consolidation of Xi Jinping’s rule domestically making him the Middle Kingdom’s most powerful ruler since Mao, been working methodically to settle disputes which it has leveraged in the past against its rivals, especially the US and its allies, while expanding its military power including establishing overseas bases and launching the second phase of its economic growth push at home.
The nudge to North Korea is an attempt by Beijing, working in concert to a large extent with Pyongyang, to localize the dispute and push the Koreas to work out their differences bilaterally without getting involved overtly itself. This approach will also play well from Beijing’s point of view if the US and its other major ally in the region, Japan, try and influence the direction of Seoul’s policy because it gives the Chinese a handy, no-outside-power-involvement line of argument. President Moon must certainly engage with Kim. But he should keep his powder dry.
Courtesy: The Pioneer