Inter-Korea Summit: Charting The Way Forward


South Korean President, Moon Jae-in paid a three-day historic visit to the North Korean capital Pyongyang for the third Inter-Korean Summit which culminated to the adoption of Pyongyang Joint Declaration. The first Inter-Korean Summit was hosted in April 2018 and led to the adoption of the Panmunjom Declaration which focussed on co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans, ending the state of armistice and eased severe military tensions and reduced the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula. Building further on the relations, the Pyongyang declaration prioritised three key objectives including the strengthening of inter-Korean relations, hastening of North Korea-US dialogue on denuclearisation, and further easing of military concerns between the two Koreas.

Demonstrating tangible steps towards denuclearising the peninsula, North Korea has decided to shut down Dongchang-ri engine test site and missile launch pad in the presence of international experts. Furthermore, South Korean President Moon said “contingent upon corresponding measures by the United States”, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un will adopt further measures towards denuclearisation including the permanent dismantlement of the Yongbyon facility. Even though there is ambiguity on what these measures may entail, President Trump has welcomed the outcome of the third Inter-Korean Summit. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated US’s willingness to “engage immediately in negotiations” drawing from North’s readiness to dismantle Yongbyon and Tongchang-ri sites in presence of international inspectors as a step towards verifiable denuclearisation. He further indicated that denuclearisation negotiations with North Korea will be completed by January 2021.

During the summit, North Korean Chairman Kim agreed to visit Seoul, which if realised, will be the first in history marking a “true milestone in the inter-Korean relationship”. Both Koreas agreed to institute a joint inter-Korean military committee with the aim of facilitating regular discussions on executing military-related agreements. They are also investing energy in augmenting cooperation in several areas such as infrastructure, tourism, healthcare, culture and sports. The leaders have decided to re-start the Gaesong Industrial Complex; the start of permanent family reunion centres, recommencement of the Geumgangsan Mountain tours; and proposed to co-host the Olympic Summer Games in 2032.

The South Korean President Moon his commitment to facilitate a second summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim in the coming days. Following the Singapore summit, negotiations between the US and North Korea navigated several challenges and Washington expressed dissatisfaction regarding the progress of denuclearisation which led to the cancellation of a planned visit of Secretary Pompeo to North Korea in August. President Moon has once again stepped up his role as a key mediator between the US and North Korea as witnessed during the case of the Singapore meeting earlier.

Regional stakeholders have welcomed the outcome of the third Inter-Korea summit. China has urged for politically resolving the Korean Peninsula issue and supported dialogue and consultation mechanism to facilitate reconciliation. Meanwhile, Russia argued that reconciliation between two Koreas will reduce tensions, facilitate mutual trust, and respect each other’s interests leading to decline of military tensions. While Japan has also welcomed the latest efforts by both Koreas to improve relations, it stressed the importance of prompt implementation of the agreement on complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Japan is expected to work in close consultation with the US and South Korea on regional security concerns. US Secretary of State Pompeo is also expected attend a meeting on North Korea later this month; where he is expected to apprise the international community regarding US efforts towards the goal of fully verifiable denuclearisation of North Korea and underscore the need for every member states to implement prevailing sanctions in the wake of accusations of violations by Russia and China.

India had welcomed the thaw in ties between the two Koreas and also the Singapore summit between President Trump and Chairman Kim. However, the nuclear nexus between North Korea and Pakistan is something which New Delhi is wary of. It is expected that the denuclearisation talks would address India’s concerns too.

Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst On East And South-East Asia