Amna Ejaz Rafi
THE North-South conflict has dominated the regional politics. The Northeast Asia’s politics have been viewed with the prism of Korean conflict. In the past, there had been efforts to bring the two Koreas to negotiating table; the Six-party talks was an endeavour in this direction. The regional players as well as the US has been actively involved in dissuading the regional tensions. In this backdrop, the recent North-South interaction could be termed as a major political breakthrough development, and if it is able to achieve the desired goal of peace, it could be a new era in the lives of the Korean people separated since 1953. The talks were held along the militarized zone, in Panmunjom village. The visit by a North Korean leader to South Korea is the first, since the end of Korean war.
The visit is being hailed by the regional players and the world at large. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric remarked: “Many around the world were moved by the powerful imagery of the two leaders coming together to advance harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula.” Kim Jong Un known for his bold acts, has once again surprised the political spectators. The leadership of two Koreas have agreed to conclude a Peace Treaty; the treaty will be signed by end of 2018. Besides, efforts will be undertaken to promote bilateral ties and reunification of Korean peninsula, thus, ending 65 years of hostile relations. People-to-people contact between the two Koreas will also be encouraged. A joint liaison office will be established in Kaesong, North Korea. Ministerial interaction to discuss military related issues is on the agenda as well.
Kim Jong Un’s statement that North Korea “no longer needed to conduct nuclear tests or Intercontinental Ballistic Missile tests,” is a marked shift from the country’s past policies. It appears that North Korea is trying to build its image as a responsible political player with the ultimate goal of economic progress. The regional countries response to the success of these bonhomie gestures is also important, in particular, how would the region will respond to a unified Korea? Seeing the dialogue from a realpolitik perspective, South Korea is economically stable while North Korea is a de-facto nuclear state. Both the Koreas need a conducive regional environment to progress. The joint declaration, talks about a unified Korea, in that case, both the Koreas together will be stable and considerably stronger political player at the regional front.
China has seen the North-South meeting as a positive move in diffusing tensions at the Korean peninsula. As per the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement: “all parties could maintain the momentum for dialogue and jointly promote the resolution process.” Japan, a regional player (and a US ally) may not support a flexible approach to North Korea. The issue of abduction of 17 Japanese citizens by North Korea back in 1970-80 is still an irritant in the bilateral ties (Korean authorities had acknowledged the abduction of 13 Japanese; as per their claim, eight have died, and five have been returned to Japan). Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visit to the US (April 17-18), ahead of US-North Korea talks (planned in May/June this year) shows that Japan want it’s concern to be heard during the talks. The US as apparent from past diplomatic moves does not support a nuclear North Korea. President Donald Trump statement: “Japan and ourselves are locked, and we are unified on the subject of North Korea.” But how strategically the US and Japan are aligned over the issue?
And will the US assure that threat to it’s allies will not be over-looked? Or the Pyongyang’s willingness for dialogue will mollify the opposition? Well, there had been news that CIA Director, Mike Pompeo visited North Korea for a meeting with Kim Jong Un.To conclude, to take the North-South rapport to the desired level, will require bilateral as well as regional cooperation. In this regard, the upcoming US-North Korea talks are significant. A continuous diplomatic engagement between North and South along side with the US can lead to a positive outcome. The role of China and Japan in giving momentum to peace talks is also vital. However, backing out from the negotiating table, at this stage will be difficult for either of the party, it may result in further economic sanctions, and deteriorating security situation on the peninsula.
— The writer is senior Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.