The summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this September is the third summit between the current leaders, and the fifth summit between the two nations since the formation of the two republics. With tensions riding high, a directive from President Trump to act as a 'middle man' for the stalled US-DPRK negotiations and an obligation from the Panmunjom declaration to work with Pyongyang to push for stronger ties between the two Korean states, Moon Jae-in had vast amounts of work to accomplish on this trip. Taking these goals into account, the summit resulted in varying degrees of success, and will undoubtably have an impact on negotiations moving forward.
Overview of events
Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, arrived at Sunan International Airport, Pyongyang at 10am local time. The President and first lady Kim Jung-sook were greeted on the tarmac by Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju where they inspected the honour guard before passing by a cheering crowd to the motorcade which took the summit officials and the leaders to the state guest house where the talks between the leaders and other officials took place. On the second day of the summit, Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in viewed an art performance at the Pyongyang Grand Theatre alongside numerous officials, followed by a banquet at the Mokran house in Pyongyang. Both leaders gave warm addresses to eachother and at the end of the day, a joint statement from the leaders was released alongside a joint military declaration. On the third day of the summit, the leaders agreed to take a joint visit to Mt. Paektu (Paektusan) on the northern border with China. They agreed on the symbolic visit to the ancestral homeland of the Korean people in a move not directly anticipated, however many analysts expected some unexpected proposals from the northern side. Moon Jae-in confirmed he would return to Seoul from Samjiyon airport, rather than from Sunan, ending the three day summit.
Recap of accomplishments
The summit has produced some new agreements between the two sides. Whilst negotiations on denuclearisation have resulted in some symbolic gestures, it is mainly seen as a route to break the deadlock between the US and the DPRK. Some of the more concrete agreements made are primarily focused on a more comprehensive inter-korean relationship and a more peaceful military situation at the border. Notable accomplishments include:
1) Closing of the Tongchang-ri testing facility
The closing of the testing facility at Tongchang-ri, overseen by international representatives, marks a symbolic gesture, not unlike the closure of the nuclear test site prior to the Singapore summit. This process however is not irreversible and other sides still exist around the country.
2) An accepted invite for Chairman Kim Jong Un to visit Seoul
Perhaps one of the most significant events in terms of optics, is the possibility of a state visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong Un. This would be the first visit to Seoul, or South Korea (outside the DMZ) by a leader of the DPR Korea. Any potential visit could have the potential to spark protests from opponents to President Moon's DPRK-policy, however could also mark a major leap forward in relations between the neighbouring countries.
3) Reaffirming of the Panmunjom and June 15th declarations
Similar to previous summits, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to previously established declarations. In the case of older agreements (such as the June 15th North-South declaration) this is a primarily symbolic action given that, since they were agreed, both sides have violated their side of the bargain. However, in the case of the Panmunjom declaration from earlier this year, progress has been made in rebuilding the broken relationship between the two nations, and having that agreement reaffirmed shows that both sides are keen to push forward with developments that have been occuring in recent months.
4) Economic cooperation
Both sides have agreed to link their railway networks to help deepen the links between the ROK and DPRK in economic sectors. This could be a major boost for the economy in the north, however it is unclear how much cooperation will be possible under the strict sanctions regime imposed by the United Nations last year.
5) Military agreement
On the same day at the joint declaration from the leaders, top military officials also signed an agreement aimed at lowering tensions between the military and preventing conflict between the two sides.
Impact in Korea
This summit seems to have been three days of reaffirming previously established ties and pushing for 'more of the same'. Connection of the railway lines will allow for more family reunions to take place and both sides agreed to a bid for the 2032 summer olympics, as well as sending a joint team to the 2020 Tokyo olympics. These ties have been praised by both sides and strengthened the detente on the peninsula. Aside from the invite to Chairman Kim Jong Un to visit Seoul, many of the points agreed to at this meeting were previously ratified in the Panmunjom declaration, but there is no harm in reaffirming those links and deepening international ties.
Impact on the global community
Whilst from the outside, the dismantling of the Tongchang-ri site and the acknowledgment that the Yongbyon facility is on the negotiating table could be seen as major advances in nuclear negotiation, many experts have suggested that, since no concrete timeline for the missile site to be dismantled and no clues as to what 'reciprocal action' will be required from the US to trigger the closing of Yongbyon, no major progress has been made in denuclearisation. Both sides reaffirmed their commitments to a nuclear-free peninsula, however, so far, that's all. Some experts suggest that a wedge could be driving its way between Washington and Seoul, as inter-korean ties improve without any tangible denuclearisation strategy. The closer korean ties, supported by China, may not be seen in such a positive light by the US government who are pushing for at least a timeline for denuclearisation before signing any peace deals or making any concessions to Pyongyang. These differing tactics may be the weak point in the alliance and will likely be a major point of contention between the two sides.
So far, the relationship between Pyongyang and Seoul has been growing, despite a few bumps in the road. The chemistry between the two leaders has been a key linchpin in the developing negotiations and closer ties between the neighbours lowers tensions drastically and makes the threat of conflict even lower. Assuming these talks continue, and progress is made on non-nuclear issues between the states, the relationship could grow to a point where it would be difficult for future administrations taking over from Moon Jae-in would find it hard to dismantle the framework for lasting peace on the peninsula. This is likely the thinking behind the establishment of the permanent joint-liaison office in Kaesong.
The summit had high points and low points. From a standpoint of denuclearisation, it doesn't seem as though any major breakthrough occurred. However, Moon Jae-in announced that he, and Kim Jong Un, had agreed on a potential framework for denuclearisation in Korea, however that has not been announced yet. With what we know at this point, it does not seem like any significant concession has been made on either side which moves us closer to denuclearisation. In terms of inter-korean relations, the meeting in Pyongyang was full of symbolic acts such as the planned excursion to Mt. Paektu and the linking of rail lines. For the Korean peninsula, the agreement reaffirmed ties that have helped the two countries grow closer since the start of 2018, and therefore, on that front, this meeting could be called a success for diplomacy.