Last week’s inter-Korean summit certainly brightened prospects for a peaceful solution to North Korea’s nuclear armament and rapprochement between the two Koreas. What’s additionally noteworthy is that both sides are taking swifter follow-up actions than in the past.
The North seems to be more proactive. Its leader Kim Jong-un confirmed in the talks with President Moon Jae-in that his country would shutter its nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.
Then in the Panmunjeom talks, Kim not only specified when – this month – but also said that he would invite experts and journalists from South Korea and the US to observe the shutdown.
The North also did not spend too much time carrying out another reconciliatory move that Kim promised -- unifying its time zone with South Korea’s.
As if not to be outdone by the North’s actions, the South Korean government is also taking follow-up actions promptly. On Tuesday, the South Korean military began to remove propaganda loudspeakers in the Demilitarized Zone.
The removal of the loudspeakers that had been installed along the border since 1963 was part of the Panmunjeom Declaration Moon and Kim signed after their summit. The agreement called for the two sides to cease all hostile acts, including loudspeaker broadcasts and the distribution of leaflets.
The Moon government might have felt the need to reciprocate the North’s follow-up actions. But one cannot but have worries that the early removal of loudspeakers -- which had been scheduled to be discussed in forthcoming inter-Korean military talks -- may indicate the Moon government’s impatience to rush to reconciliatory projects without real progress in denuclearization.
The Panmunjeom Declaration calls on the two sides to hold military talks to reduce security tension and Red Cross talks on reunion of separated families. It also included plans for various reconciliatory programs, including those on a joint celebration of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 and the connection of railroads and motorways between the two Koreas.
Regarding possible future cooperation, Cheong Wa Dae said that Moon gave Kim a book and a USB drive that contained the “New Economic Map of the Korean Peninsula,” an inter-Korean economic cooperation blueprint he has formulated since his presidential campaign days.
The blueprint is highlighted by the construction of “three belts” on the peninsula -- an East Sea energy and resources belt linking South Korea’s east coast with those of North Korea and Russia, a West Coast industrial, logistics and transportation belt and the DMZ environment and tourism belt.
It is good to get inter-Korean economic cooperation programs ready. Moreover, Moon’s such proposal could become a sort of incentive for the North’s speedy denuclearization efforts.
But the reality is that only the first step toward denuclearization has been taken and that it still is too early to be convinced about its future direction. As Kim admitted in talks with Moon, agreements made by the two Koreas often remained only on paper.
Look no further than the current fate of the Kumgangsan tours and the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a brainchild of the first-ever inter-Korean summit between the late President Kim Dae-jung and the late Kim Jong-il, father of the current North Korean leader.
On Monday, Moon instructed government officials to act fast on follow-up measures to the summit agreement. He did mention that there were things that should be waited until the international sanctions on the North are lifted. But the overall tone of his statements was to hasten the government for reconciliatory programs with the North.
It would be okay if the president were speaking about things like the reunions of separated families, which is a purely humanitarian issue and which has nothing to do with economic sanctions against the North.
But many other programs now mentioned by government officials are sure to conflict with the sanctions imposed on the North. The government should wait at least until the Kim-Trump talks, which are expected to set the course of the North’s denuclearization and the sanctions as well.