From the brink of nuclear war towards a new era of peace and prosperity, the historic peace talks between North and South Korea can easily be defined under this statement that, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies— they only have permanent interests”.
Though progressions of the peace talks appear to come out as a surprise for few, it is evident that both actors seem to have long-term goals that cannot be achieved without the support of one another. Looking in depth over the elements focused upon during the peace talks, both states have asserted to end any hostile activities in all domains, including land, air, and sea—and are taking steps to change the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which divides the country into a peace zone via ceasing the propaganda broadcasts. Another critical element was addressed towards the reunion of families left divided by the war and will act as a positive conduit to develop trust amidst the public of both states.
To achieve these goals talks for connecting and modernizing railways and roads are also on the table. Plus, an arms reduction in the region is also on the implementation agenda. Along with, the arrangement of regular meetings and direct telephone conversations which would aid in diminishing any air of mistrust is also stressed upon. The talks also addressed over crucial elements that will ensure a vision of a united country in the future, and the joint participation in upcoming sports events such as, Asian Games will positively induce the notion. Furthermore, the talks also leave room for a four-way talk involving both US and China as well. The commitment towards the denuclearization does not explicitly refer to North Korea halting its nuclear advances but rather aims towards a “nuclear-free Korean peninsula”.
The actual implementation of this clause is going to be a head-scratcher for analysts across the globe, as stakes are going to be high for all involved actors. Talks amidst North Korea and the US are yet to happen, which can influence the peace process via taking any vector—and the outcome it brings forth is yet to be seen. However, Trump administration had previously maintained that the diplomatic talks would not hold any weight unless North Korea completely ends its nuclear status. In recent months reports have specified North Korea’s interests in ending its nuclear activities, therefore, have diplomatically brought both South and North Korea on converging threads.
After the impeachment of President Hye, reportedly a new faction had emerged within the South Korean government which had favored the enhancement of diplomatic relations with the North to ease tensions amidst both actors. The recent 2018 Winter Olympics had also spiked interests and marked a rare instance, where North and South Korea marched under a united flag. And was a symbolic gesture of unity at a crucial time period when tensions had been high in the region. Not only that, they also competed for side by side in the Koreas’ first joint Olympic team which was a small pragmatic way to portray the united front to the world. Though a new history has been made with the implementation of the peace talks in the Korean peninsula, it resultantly has also opened debates about the potential outcomes of such diplomatic initiatives. The general public within South Korea appeared to have supported the united front at the Olympics; it appears to be divided over the peace talks with the North, as reports have indicated a plunge in the public approval ratings of President Moon Jae-in. How the public further reacts towards the implementation processes is going to be tricky.
In wake of these talks, one can find similarities to the Iranian deal, the Obama administration had struck. Viewing the peace talks under the similar prism, it is apparent that like Iran, North Korea also wants to extend and exploit its domestic markets and resources—even if it comes at the cost of losing its nuclear status. South Korea in recent decades has pushed itself on the international front as a strong economic contender, ranking fourth in Asia and eleventh worldwide. Therefore, for North Korea, the economic opportunities are wide enough to strategically find its right international footing.
The removal of international sanctions will benefit North Korea’s economy as a new diplomatic image of President Kim Jong Un appears on the forefront. On the other end, reports have indicated that shares in various South Korean companies have mounted under the limelight of these peace talks. As such an indicator also proposes that South Korean companies can also successfully compete with Chinese businesses within North Korea, and deem fruitful for the South Korean economy as well.
On the international front, China has regarded the recent summit amidst both states as a historic moment. Analysts can easily visualize that China does benefit from a peace agreement between North and South Korea, as it reduces the threat of instability near its borders, but it would just not accept any form of reunification and denuclearization if its national interests are violated. Which leaves room for a question that whether a reunified Korea would be neutral towards China, once US military presence is removed from the Korean soil? Therefore, in China’s interests, reunified Korea is only beneficial if the alliance amidst South Korea and the US is broken, and there is no presence of US military on the Korean soil. As a result, China will purposefully support North Korea in securing her interests in the peaceful process of denuclearization.
Because, for analysts, China will not support any scenario where North Korean is going to be vulnerable to American pressures, or if the latter is left exposed to an open attack or forcible reunification by a regime change. In light of other contextual reference, analysts also assert that China perceives the separation of Korea through the prism of China’s goal of reunification with Taiwan. Thus, perceives that unification between North and South Korea is something that is inevitable. For e.g. historically, as it was for Germany. How China maneuvers its position in this deal to produce its favored strategic outcomes is thought-provoking.
Other world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also viewed the summit progression positively. Furthermore, reports indicate keen Russian interests in facilitating the cooperation process between both actors via development of tripartite cooperation in various sectors such as railway, electricity, gas and other fields. Japan on the other side, in recent years, has been heavily involved in intensifying its defensive spheres in wake of regional threats. Even if the Korean peninsula becomes denuclearized, Japan’s stance on fortifying its border securities will not be reduced and will play a diplomatic hand which will keep it in US good books.
In the end, whether North Korea and South Korea are reunified or remain as separate peaceful states, under the existing geopolitical realities it is remarkable that both actors have taken this step forward to contribute towards a new era of peace and prosperity. If these steps actually generate the desired outcomes or is entirely a façade remain to be unwritten for now.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.