Country Report: South Korea (September 2018)

Kim Kimberly

The second half of the summer saw the build-up to the third summit of Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un as well as more wide-ranging diplomacy in North-South relations in the background. One occasion was the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) foreign ministers’ meeting in Singapore. Another was the closely-watched presidential speech on August 15. Finally, as the summer was ending Moon traveled to Pyongyang for the third summit in five months. South Korean newspapers found other occasions to pay close attention to North Korea, whether its exports, family reunions, or its diplomacy with the United States. The divide between progressives and conservatives persisted as Moon’s popularity was slipping but most still welcomed his engagement with Kim.

ARF in Singapore closes on August 5

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa had flown to Singapore to attend the 25th ASEAN Regional Forum held on August 4 and was expected to encounter her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho. On the date of her departure during a brief interview with Yonhap News Agency, she said, “I hope the meeting (between the foreign ministers representing the Koreas) takes place.” She also touched on cooperative developments taking place with the United States and China with the goal of producing a formal declaration to end the Korean War by the end of this year. But no bilateral or trilateral meetings among the most relevant parties regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula—the two Koreas and the US—occurred in Singapore.

Conservative coverage on the matter pointed out the South Korean government’s impatience as well as its attempt to produce a declaration formally ending the Korean War “by late this year,” and expressed worries that such efforts could pressure the United States. On August 2, Harry Harris, the newly appointed US ambassador to South Korea, made it clear during a local news conference that Pyongyang must make “demonstrable moves” toward denuclearization before any declaration of the end of the Korean War. Meanwhile, Joongang Ilbo wrote on August 6 that efforts by South Korea to rush such a declaration would be framed as the two Koreas pressuring Washington together. The article also urged South Korea to demand progress on denuclearization from North Korea, citing Harris’ remarks on the pace of the process: “It is my hope that we [the United States] move forward the issue of the end of war declaration with South Korea.” Donga Ilbo on the same day, wrote that the United States is playing a two-faced game—with Donald Trump being relatively moderate despite his administration acting tough—and this is not to pull the plug on a potential deal but to strengthen the sanctions against the communist regime at the same time as talks proceed. In the meantime, North Korea is rejecting working-level negotiations to solve the nuclear issue and insisting on a top-down approach to break the impasse. Donga concluded with a prediction that the deadlock will not last forever and that South Korea should not be pushy but should reinforce the US-ROK alliance in order to deter Pyongyang from hoping that it can avoid sanctions without fulfilling its commitment to denuclearize.

Progressive coverage paid attention to the need to seek a new approach to solve the issue. On August 5, Hankyoreh wrote that the United States putting denuclearization first despite North Korea putting ending the Korean War first indicates that the two parties remain apart. The article argued that the long-lasting deadlock will not help either side, and therefore, both sides should actively support a top-down approach to open a new phase of the nuclear negotiations. Meanwhile, the article explained that the US administration’s continuous pressure on North Korea is also a result of consciousness that many Americans mistrust North Korea, and it suggested a top-down approach as an effective way to ameliorate the skepticism. In a similar tone, Kyunghyang wrote that dissenting views from both sides had been confirmed through the forum. According to the article, though, a letter from Kim to Trump sent right before the opening of the forum and Trump’s response delivered to the North showed the two leaders’ commitment to talk and therefore, is a great gain. Kyunghyang called for a new driving force for the negotiations and proposed a second US-North Korea summit as the most desirable remedy.   

Customs Service’s announcement on NK coal imports on August 10 (violations of UN sanctions)

On August 10, the Korean Customs Service released the results of an investigation of local companies that allegedly imported North Korean coal; it verified that seven out of nine cases involved the illegal importation of 6.6 billion won worth of coal from North Korea. According to the investigation, the imported coal entered South Korea after temporarily landing in Russia, where it could be labeled Russian in order to escape inquiries; the three importers responsible were detained by the public prosecutor’s office. As the UN Security Council had banned North Korean coal from being imported last August (resolution 2371) with the goal of punishing the North for its nuclear and missile threats, the resolution was a key tool to pressure Pyongyang. This was the first time it has been verified that South Korea violated the UN-imposed sanctions against Pyongyang, and Seoul was put on the spot regarding whether it had overlooked the incident.

Conservative coverage blasted the Customs Service for the investigation taking too long and its lackadaisical attitude on the issue. All three major conservative papers warned that this one-time violation would damage the trust South Korea had built within the international community and especially, its standing with the United States. An editorial by Chosun Ilbo took the most adamant stance on the case, questioning the Customs Service’s integrity in the investigation process, accusing it of intentionally neglecting its duties and hiding the incident until the case was uncovered by the foreign press. The article also criticized the South Korean foreign ministry for being slow to investigate the four ships that delivered North Korean coal as they had a history of coming in and out of a South Korean harbor dozens of times; the ministry announced its plan to prohibit the ships’ entry to South Korean ports which, the article claimed, was akin to beating a dead horse. Donga pointed to the South Korean government not being fully aware of the seriousness and importance of adhering to UN-imposed sanctions as the main cause of the incident. The article also urged Moon to hold the relevant government organizations accountable and establish a solid system to avoid any recurrence as well as to clarify his stance on respecting the existing sanctions regime and reaffirming Seoul’s alliance with Washington.

Progressive coverage focused on the incident being too politicized. Hankyoreh on August 10 elaborated that the illegality was committed by a certain group of individuals who put a Russian label on North Korean coal, the case was investigated, and the responsible importers shall be punished. It wrote, however, that the conservative press and the opposition party are feeding the suspicion that the South Korean government, after uncovering the North Korean coal imports, did not detain the ships; the article defended the government with details of the UN resolution, which specify that detaining a ship is only possible when reasonable grounds were suspected. Hankyoreh also claimed that this single case would not evolve into a conflict with the United States because the two states have constantly worked together from the initial stage of the investigation. Kyunghyang highlighted the need for pan-government, follow-up measures to close the loopholes in the sanctions by cooperating with the international community. The article cited Voice of America’s interview with a US House member, Ted Poe, who said, “Countries must stop violating North Korea sanctions,” and questioned Seoul’s commitment to sanctions against Pyongyang. At the same time, the article criticized the main opposition party, the Liberty Korea Party, for its extreme argument that the Korean government neglected the case on purpose and therefore, should be punished, even though no member of the international community accused Seoul of violating the UN resolution.

Moon’s Korean National Liberation Day speech (8/15) and joint railroad agenda

Moon Jae-in, during his address to mark Korea’s 73rd Liberation Day, mentioned the word “peace” the most—21 times—and “economy” the second most—17 times—to stress the importance of economic cooperation with North Korea. Moon released his economic vision to be achieved by improving relations with the North and Pyongyang’s denuclearization, saying, “Advancement in inter-Korean relations is the driving force behind denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and added, “When peace is established on the Korean Peninsula along with complete denuclearization, economic cooperation can be carried out in earnest.” He also said, “When the dreams of a peace-based economy and economic community are realized, our economy can take a new leap forward.” As for the details required to realize his vision, Moon proposed inter-Korean railroads and natural resource development projects; he also suggested resuming operations of the Kaeseong Industrial Complex and Mount Geumgang tours, emphasizing, “When the two Koreas undertake full economic cooperation, the result will be incomparably greater.”

Conservative coverage diverged—from far right to center right—on assessing Moon’s vision. Munhwa Ilbo wrote an editorial on August 16 titled, “Why expanding inter-Korean economic cooperation leading to denuclearization is a wrong perception.” It argued that considering the seriousness of the North’s nuclear issue, the communist regime’s nuclear strategy, and the international community’s efforts to restrain it, including the UN’s ambition to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program through sanctions, improving relations between Seoul and Pyongyang is likely a faulty recipe for the North’s denuclearization. Munhwa listed three reasons to back its argument: First, Moon’s vision would likely undermine the basis of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue as it implied improved inter-Korean relations despite no advancement in denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. Second, Moon’s vision involves a self-contradiction; he put denuclearization first to realize his economic vision but, at the same time, called for improving inter-Korean relations to achieve denuclearization, thereby leaving his true intentions unclear. Third, Moon’s vision—putting economic cooperation before denuclearization—is Pyongyang’s strategy; North Korea has constantly requested that the Kaeseong Industrial Complex be reopened and Mount Geumgang tours be resumed. Munhwa concluded by advising Moon that his economic cooperation agenda could weaken sanctions against the North and it would leave the South farther from the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Donga admonished Moon for not specifying how to achieve complete denuclearization, which he set as a premise for economic cooperation between the two Koreas; his remarks such as, “It is a goal to hold groundbreaking ceremonies within this year for the reconnection of railroads and roads as agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration” conveyed a misleading message that his vision might be seen as easing the sanctions. The article argued that Moon should consider Washington’s concern that better inter-Korean relations would diminish its power to turn Pyongyang into a nuclear-free state and the vision was, timewise, ill-fitting.

Meanwhile, Joongang’s editorial began by sympathizing with Moon’s statement, “Building a single economic community first (by settling peace and freely traveling back and forth between the two Koreas) will become genuine liberation for us” and focused on holding North Korea accountable. It argued that North Korea has always been the one defaulting on reconciliation and economic cooperation efforts; it was Pyongyang that breached the agreement signed after the first North Korean nuclear crisis by secretly enriching uranium and caused the second nuclear crisis in 2002; and the regime broadcast blowing up its cooling tower in Yongbyun in 2008 but finally claimed itself to be a nuclear state in 2017 thanks to its successful nuclear and missile-launching tests. Joongang lightly touched upon Moon’s plan regarding building “special economic zones near the border,” which raised criticism; he presupposed “when military tension is eased and peace established,” despite public experience with an irresponsible Pyongyang in the past.It concluded by urging Moon to firmly ask Kim Jong-un for complete denuclearization at the third inter-Korean summit in September because without North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons first, none of what Moon suggested could possibly move forward.

Progressive coverage valued Moon’s vision and revealed expectations for his diplomatic performance to overcome the current impasses through improved relations with the North. Hankyoreh referred to Moon’s research citation, “the impact from inter-Korean economic cooperation is estimated to reach 170 trillion won at a minimum over the next 30 years,” and wrote that the president affirmed his commitment to resume business with North Korea, such as reconnecting inter-Korean railroads, developing natural resources, and resuming Kaeseong Industrial Complex operations and Mount Geumgang tours. In particular, the article highly regarded Moon’s “East Asian Railroad Community” proposal, encompassing six Northeast Asian countries and the United States, as the rail industry is a promising one, which the two Koreas, China, and Russia can, preferably, work on together. The article wrote that the community can pave the way for easing sanctions on North Korea and be pushed forward as a leading Northeast Asian diplomatic project. The article also appreciated Moon’s comments: “Developments in inter-Korean relations are not the by-effects of progress in the relationship between the North and the United States. Rather, advancement in inter-Korean relations is the driving force behind denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Hankyoreh argued that if inter-Korean relations become dependent on the denuclearization negotiation process, the situation can get worse and noted that Moon’s stance differs from that of Washington; the article concluded that Moon seeking independence in inter-Korean relations is a realistic approach as Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul and Washington would have to create a virtuous circle.

Family reunion (8/20-26 at Mount Geumgang)

On June 22, the South Korean Unification Ministry issued a joint press release about inter-Korean Red Cross talks to reunite families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War. The reunion was scheduled from August 20 to 26 for 100 families each, from South and North Korea respectively, 2 years and 10 months after a similar reunion had been suspended. On August 20, during a Blue House chief of staff meeting, Moon said, “As a member of a separated family myself, I deeply empathize with them in their sorrows and frustration” and stressed that, “expanding the scope of the reunion and expediting its process is a top priority for both Seoul and Pyongyang, among other humanitarian works.” As for the family reunion, regardless of its political hues—whether conservative or progressive, right or left—most of the editorials voiced a similar concern over two things: the lack of time and infrequency of the meetings for the aged members of the families.

On August 21, Segye  Ilbo brought up a few individual cases of the war victims, including a 99-year-old woman from the South, who met her two daughters from the North and wrote about the difficulties they face; after meeting their separated family members briefly, most of the victims go through great depression. The article also pointed out how competitive the selection process for the reunion was, as only 1 out of every 569 people who applied were chosen to meet their families. According to the article, out of 132,000 people who registered to attend a reunion in the 1980s, roughly 76,000 had died and 21 percent of the ones still alive are over 90 and 65 percent are over 80 years old. Segye called for significantly increasing the scale of the reunions and making them a regular event.

Hankyoreh wrote about the family reunions on August 19 and 20, and the article released on the 20th focused specifically on the opening of a joint liaison office with Pyongyang. The article titled “Taking tearful family reunion as a chance to improve inter-Korean relations” advocated full-time operations of the family reunion center at Mount Geumgang as the biggest item on the humanitarian agenda between the two Koreas. Hankyoreh also welcomed the building of a liaison office and argued that such a move was agreed upon in the Panmunjom Declaration between Seoul and Pyongyang on April 27 and reaffirmed in a joint statement between Washington and Pyongyang on June 12. Hankyoreh additionally claimed that opening a liaison office would not economically benefit North Korea and therefore cannot be a violation of UN sanctions against the North. Finally, it cited Moon’s National Liberation Day address and agreed that improved inter-Korean relations can function as a driving force to promote denuclearization, and a liaison office would also contribute to moving forward with the nuclear negotiations.

Unexpected cancellation of Pompeo’s trip to NK

Trump unexpectedly canceled a planned fourth trip to North Korea by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, a day after Pompeo’s press conference announcing his plan to visit Pyongyang. Trump tweeted on August 24 that the cancellation was made because “I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and added, “I do not believe they [China] are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were,” accusing China of not being actively involved in solving the stalled process. The Chinese foreign ministry refuted Trump’s argument, calling it “irresponsible and absurd.” Domestic media heavily covered Moon’s much-anticipated response, as when Trump cancelled his historic summit in Singapore with Kim, and its possible consequences.

Most of the conservative editorials blamed Pyongyang for the cancellation. On August 27, Chosun wrote that the roadmap for the North’s denuclearization—from Pompeo’s visit in August to the third inter-Korean summit in September, and finally, a second Trump-Kim summit—has been disrupted, and we should not raise our hopes. The article accused North Korea of the blunder and argued that it is acting nonchalantly aware that Trump cannot back off at this stage, especially with mid-term elections coming up in November. It slammed North Korea for pretending to destroy its nuclear test sites and missile launching sites that had already been rendered useless; Pyongyang condescended to Washington by repatriating the remains of US troops who died during the Korean War, which is irrelevant to the regime’s denuclearization, as if it had given a lot away and is now insisting on declaring the end of the Korean War. Chosun warned that if North Korea fools itself into thinking that Trump is in its hands and acts in an egotistical manner, relations between Washington and Pyongyang could, in an instant, revert to what they were like before the Singapore summit. Segye wrote that this was Trump’s first time officially raising a problem over the slow denuclearization process since the Singapore summit as he had continuously insisted that the summit was successful and that he trusts Kim. The article continued, however, that it seems like Trump abandoned his dovish approach and had to worry about Pompeo flying back to Washington empty-handed. It also blamed China for the discord between its words and actions; China promised to play a positive role in the denuclearization process but condones trade with Pyongyang across the border, which has been an open secret.

Meanwhile, Donga focused on the fact that Trump’s cancellation was made while the South Korean government was devoting its full attention to an official declaration of the end of the Korean War and pushing for the opening of a joint liaison office between Seoul and Pyongyang. It warned that if the impasse between the United States and North Korea continues until the third inter-Korean summit in September, Moon would have little room to maneuver. Donga also claimed that this incident is different from the cancellation Trump made on May 24 because then it was North Korea’s harsh words and attitude that motivated Trump to pull out; this time, the cancellation was amid the process of advancing nuclear negotiations, and therefore, Moon cannot bridge the two parties, like he did last time by urgently meeting with Kim. The article urged Moon to be more than a mediator and persuade and pressure Kim to provide a list of all of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons stockpiles and facilities with a roadmap for denuclearization.

Progressive coverage stayed more hopeful in general but showed apprehension that the cancellation could have an influence on the diplomacy South Korea had planned to obtain denuclearization commitments from the North. Hankyoreh wrote on August 26 that the détente is at a crossroads between longer impasses and another turnaround owing to the cancellation, which may even influence the third inter-Korean summit. However, the article argued that Trump still trusts Kim, citing a part of his tweet, “I look forward to seeing him [Kim] soon!” Hankyoreh wrote that the incident reminds it of Trump’s cancellation before the Singapore summit and claimed that if such a move is part of Trump’s negotiating strategy, there is also a possibility of Pyongyang and Washington sitting at the negotiating table before long. In closing, the article called on the South Korean government to mediate between the two sides and wrote that this “opportunity in September” cannot be missed. Meanwhile, Kyunghyang focused on Trump’s unstable foreign policy, arguing that reversing an officially announced diplomatic event overnight is almost unprecedented; Trump’s unilateral, one-way diplomacy, which ignores the position of the relevant states, is utterly disappointing. The article expressed worries that the cancellation might deepen the anti-American sentiment in North Korea and weaken the North’s willingness to denuclearize, not to mention jeopardize a scenario in which a declaration to end the Korean War is produced during the UN General Assembly in September. But the article concluded that this is just one of many possibilities which could occur on the journey to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and this cancellation should not be interpreted as if the negotiating structure between Washington and Pyongyang has deteriorated. Kyunghyang advised Moon not to be swept away by the fluctuating relations between the United States and North Korea, but to move forward with his plan as scheduled. http://linkback.khan.co.kr/images/onebyone.gif?action_id=c963069763100009062e18139cf60cf

North Korea’s Foundation Day (September 9) and the military parade

September 9 marked the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s establishment, which is considered a major holiday in Pyongyang. Despite speculation that President Xi Jinping would make his first official visit to the North for the ceremony, Beijing’s third highest-ranking official and the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, attended the event with his delegation to showcase China’s ties. However, the accompanying military parade, a core part of the event, did not involve a display of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) this year; also, it was not Kim, but the ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, who delivered a commemorative speech with a focus on economic development, while not mentioning the nation’s nuclear capabilities.

Conservative editorials struck two divergent tones in interpreting the North’s toned-down gesture. Joongang on September 10 acknowledged that the ICBMs being taken out of the parade and the state-run newspaper’s eased attack on the United States in its National Foundation Day coverage are positive. The article also wrote that Kim’s letter to Trump, reportedly delivered on September 6, and Trump’s following tweets in response to the letter are a good sign. But Joongang insisted that although Kim is at least not trying to spoil the deal, these soft-line gestures are not enough to put off sanctions against the North and added that no practical denuclearization measures have been taken by Pyongyang. Munhwa agreed that it is too soon to tell whether such moves made by the North are truly positive; they seem meaningful but without any practical measures, they do not mean anything. The article argued that if Kim wants to prove his integrity, he should proclaim it to the world, in his own voice, and perform a specific action toward denuclearization; an elementary step would be to declare the halt of the North’s nuclear facility operations in Yongbyon, which produces plutonium, and Kangson, which enriches uranium, and provide a list of its nuclear programs. 

On the other hand, Donga valued highly the North’s decision to remove the ICBMs from the parade, unlike previous parades in 2016 and 2017, which followed the country’s fifth and sixth nuclear tests. The article wrote, relatively speaking, this year’s event was purposely done without provocation. Donga interpreted that the North’s decision to lower the provocative tone of the parade and send a fourth letter to Trump was a strong message to Washington to restart the talks.  The article also cited the US media’s comments that Trump is trying to overcome his domestic political risk with the “Kim Jong-un card” and wrote if that helps us find a way out of the stalled situation, it is a mercy.

Progressive coverage appreciated North Korea’s ICBM-free parade and wrote that the ball is in Trump’s court now. Kyunghyang’s editorial titled, “North Korea’s Sept. 9 military parade without ICBM, will US just be waiting?” wrote that such a “quiet” event was somewhat anticipated as Pyongyang had announced in April its plan to abandon the byungjin (parallel development) policy of its economy and nuclear weapons and focus on its economic development. The article interpreted that the North’s toned-down gesture reaffirmed its policy focus, announced both inside and out, and its will to continue the talks in September and beyond. Kyunghyang also claimed that the gesture should be taken as a further expression of North Korea’s will to denuclearize, as proclaimed in the Panmunjom Declaration and the Trump-Kim joint statement. The article wrote that the current situation on and around the Korean Peninsula has been optimized for Trump and Kim to sit face to face again.

Third inter-Korean summit

Moon left Seoul for his third summit with Kim in Pyongyang from September 18 to 20. On the second day, the two leaders announced the Pyongyang Declaration; the jointly signed peace agreement includes a cessation of military hostilities, economic cooperation, family reunions, exchanges in arts and sports, a reference to a nuclear-free Korea, and Kim’s potential visit to Seoul by the end of the year. The most noticeable part of the agreement was North Korea’s promise to “permanently” dismantle its nuclear facilities and allow international experts to “observe” the dismantlement; as for additional measures regarding denuclearization, including the permanent dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, North Korea expressed its willingness to carry them out as long as the United States takes corresponding measures following the spirit of the US-DPRK joint statement signed in June. The summit produced some unprecedented images, such as Moon giving a live speech in front of Pyongyang residents, a first for a leader from the South, and the two leaders hiking up Mount Baekdu together, which was, according to the Blue House, an impromptu offer made by Kim. After flying back to Seoul, Moon headed to the press center for a briefing and made it clear that the terms used in the agreement such as “observation” and “permanent dismantlement” mean “verifiable and irreversible dismantlement.” He also said that the most important achievement for improving relations between the two Koreas is the military agreement; adding that if this is followed properly, the two should be able to discuss lowering military tensions further.

Conservative editorials showed divided perspectives with respect to evaluating the Pyongyang Declaration. Chosun and Munhwa argued that the declaration barely showed practical advancement regarding the North’s denuclearization. Chosun wrote on September 20 that one of North Korea’s promise in the agreement to “permanently dismantle the Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch platform” was a matter that had already been promised during the US-DPRK summit in Singapore; according to Chosun, the facility is useless for Pyongyang as it obtained a mobile launcher. Concerning Pyongyang’s willingness to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility, the article wrote that North Korea is already producing nuclear bombs elsewhere, not with Yongbyon’s plutonium but with enriched uranium from a different underground facility; so the North put a no-longer-viable nuclear reactor on the negotiating table. The article expressed worries that, despite the slow denuclearization process, inter-Korean economic cooperation measures are about to accelerate; the agreement includes holding a ground-breaking ceremony within this year for east-coast and west-coast rail and road connections, and normalizing the Kaeseong Industrial Complex and the Mount Geumgang Tourism Project as conditions ripen. Chosun highlighted that none of these projects can take even a single step forward unless the sanctions against North Korea are lifted. Munhwa also pointed out that the essence of the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the North Korean nuclear issue, was outshined by a showy event. It added that the summit failed to elicit a list of North Korean nuclear weapons and facilities, and therefore, the agreement fell far short of expectations. In contrast, the declaration was full of agreements between the two Koreas promising stronger cooperation that are currently impossible due to sanctions. Munhwa warned that such an imbalance in pace—the accelerated inter-Korean relations notwithstanding the slow negotiation process in denuclearization—will cause various problems.

Meanwhile, Joongang, Donga and Segye took a more positive tone, acknowledging that the Pyongyang Declaration was a step forward from past agreements. Joongang wrote on September 20 that “more specific wording on denuclearization” and a commitment to achieve it in “Kim Jong-un’s voice” were satisfying. The article added that the fifth clause on the North’s denuclearization is a more concrete wording of its commitment compared to the corresponding one in the Panmunjom Declaration: “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” It especially appreciated the third inter-Korean summit bearing the fruit of practically allowing international inspections, including by the United States, although the term used in the declaration was “observation,” and proposing the possibility of shuttering its nuclear facility in Yongbyon, although it was promised with conditions. Joongang assessed that this is a step forward from the Trump-Kim summit in June. While admitting that the failure to obtain a list of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and facilities, as demanded by the United States, was disappointing, the article wrote that Trump’s positive response on Twitter, released merely an hour and a half after the declaration was announced, indicates that the denuclearization process is back on track. Donga on the same day wrote that it is yet too soon to tell whether the Pyongyang summit was successful; this is because North Korea did not provide a list of its nuclear weapons and facilities nor give a timeline for dismantlement. The article, however, argued that the ball is now in Washington’s court, and its response, soon to be disclosed when Moon meets Trump in New York, would determine any success.

Progressive coverage welcomed the deal that would “permanently dismantle the North’s nuclear facilities” and concurred with the Blue House that the Pyongyang Declaration is, practically speaking, a declaration of ending the Korean War, by virtue of the comprehensive military agreement signed along with the declaration. Kyunghyang wrote on September 20 that thanks to the Pyongyang Declaration, Mike Pompeo asked North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho to come to New York for negotiations; Pompeo also requested a meeting between Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, and his North Korean counterpart in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters is located. Given that the United States had firmly upheld sanctions against the North even until the day of the Pyongyang summit to pressure North Korea, the article argued that Washington’s change in attitude is a result of the United States discovering Pyongyang’s will to denuclearize in the declaration. Hankyoreh also chimed in, hailing a positive US response, and wrote that North Korea’s public pledge to permanently dismantle its nuclear facilities in Dongchang-ri and Yongbyun prepared the ground for the US to accept the deal ending the Korean War. Additionally, the article claimed that although the North has been working on the dismantlement of the Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch platform, there was no way to verify this due to the absence of international experts. Hankyoreh insisted that the agreement made this time does bring in international experts and therefore, would help silence the distrust toward Pyongyang within the international community. The article also highlighted that the most remarkable agreement was made in the military sector and signed between the two defense chiefs while both heads of state were watching and argued that the agreement was a significant step towards reducing military tensions and ending the risk of war. In particular, the pledge in the agreement to not use military force “in any circumstance,” according to Hankyoreh, can be considered a de facto non-aggression declaration.

#ASEAN Regional Forum #inter-Korean summit #Kaesong Industrial Complex #Mount Geumgang #Panmunjom Declaration #Pyongyang Declaration