After years of silence and international tension, inter-Korean conversations were restored
A new year's gift: A groundbreaking chance
2018 began with an unusual diplomatic movement, when, in its televised message for new year, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un raised the possibility of sending a team to the Winter Olympics to be held in February in PyeongChang, South Korea.
This offer was considered by South Korean President Moon Jae-in as "a groundbreaking chance" to improve relations between the two countries; especially, after a complex year due to the tension caused by Pyongyang's insistent weapons tests.
At the offer of Kim Jong-un, which was made on January 2, South Korea responded through the Minister of Unification, Cho Myoung-gyon. The response was a high-level inter-Korean proposal to discuss current military and political relations. The talk was set for January 9 in Panmunjom.
“We think that the suspended inter-Korean communication channels should be immediately restored. We propose that the two Koreas discuss details of talks including agenda items and the composition of delegations ... at the truce village.”, said Cho Myoung-gyon.
Panmunjom is a border town, called “Truce Village”, which is located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It is known for being the place where the ceasefire of the Korean War (1950-1953) was signed.
Subsequently, on January 3 at 15:30 p.m., for the first time in two years, the "red telephone" that establishes the direct line between Pyongyang and Seoul, rang in the South Korean officials in Panmunjom.
The dialogue resumed
Two days after the inter-Korean hotline was reestablished, the Ministry for the Unification of South Korea, announced that Pyongyang accepted Seoul's invitation to hold the high-level talks.
The conversation was expected to be centered on the participation in the Winter Olympic Games of the artistic skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-i, the only North Korean athletes classified. However, according to Cho Myoung-Gyon, "other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties” were also in the agenda.
The first formal dialogue in more than two years
On January 9, as scheduled, in the border village of Panmunjom, the representatives of the delegations held the first high-level talks since December 2015.
Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, was the representative of the delegation of North Korea, and Cho Myoung-gyon, the minister of National Unification, the one of the delegation of South Korea.
During the dialogue, there were discussed the participation of the North Korean athletes in the Olympic Winter Games and other topics of interest related to the development of the Olympic Games. Furthermore, the conversations included the improvement in inter-Korean relations.
Among the topics of interest related to the development of the Olympic Games, it is the North Korea's proposal to send athletes and senior officials. The proposal also considers sending journalists, artists, and taekwondo demonstration teams. On the other hand, South Korea's proposes to send athletes from both Koreas to go out together in the opening and closing ceremonies.
However, it is important to highlight that the agenda did not take into account issues such as the prevention of accidental border conflicts and denuclearization.
Will the conversations change the current situation?
Since February of 2016, South Korea suspended the operations of the Kaesong, the inter-Korean industrial complex, a symbol of cross-border reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. For the first time, since its opening in 2004, the relations were broken as a response to the nuclear test and the firing of a North Korean rocket.
In response, North Korea canceled the usual inter-Korean communications channels and the two nations had not established formal contact, until now, more than two years later. Nevertheless, during 2017 South Korea had proposed bilateral meetings focused on military talks.
This gesture contributes, according to experts, to diminish the growing tension between the two Koreas and the United States. In 2017, the relations among these countries were deteriorated as a result of the nuclear and missile program of North Korea. The last nuclear test was launched in September, and it enhanced the bellicose rhetoric between Pyongyang and the White House.
However, for Washington, the North Korean leader's willingness to improve inter-Korean relations has the purpose of destabilizing or opening a breach in the relations between the United States and South Korea.
“Our policy on North Korea hasn't changed at all and the United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula. Our goals are the same, and we share that with South Korea, but our policy and our process has not changed”. These affirmations were claimed by Heather Nauer, the spokesperson of the Department of State of The United States, at a press conference held hours before the contact was restored.
Likewise, Donald Trump attributed this advance of inter-Korean relations as a consequence of the sanctions and other mechanisms of pressure applied.
In recent years, the United Nations Security Council has applied sanctions to Pyongyang, including measures to severely reduce in 90% the imports of fuel and other petroleum products to North Korea.
Similarly, Washington has applied sanctions against the Asian country, such as the ban on exports of goods and services to the country.
LatinAmerican Post | Camila González C
Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza