At 10am local time on Tuesday the 18th of September, Moon Jae-in will touch down in Pyongyang. It will be the first time a South Korean president sets foot in the capital of the DPR Korea in 11 years. It will mark a major symbolic step in the ongoing period of detente in the region, however it comes at a time when negotiations have begun to stall between the US and DPRK on the issue of nuclear weapons. This summit could help bring both parties back to serious negotiation and signal a new period of serious discussion between all sides, or it could reaffirm the growing suspicion that denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, at least on US terms, is a dying dream. Either way, it will be a hugely significant moment in modern Korean history and a step in the right direction for the vitally important inter-Korean relations, which are paramount both for the success of other regional talks, and for the well-being of the Korean people.
These talks, whilst hugely symbolic, have no crystal clear aims. Much like previous summits, both sides have only provided basic details about their aims and hopes for the summit. The very fact that both Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un will meet a third time, and in the capital city of the DPRK, is a good sign that both sides are willing and keen to continue the dialogue that has flourished between the neighbouring states since the PyeongChang 'peace' olympics, however the meeting is also seen by the global community as a 'soft push' to Pyongyang to reengage with talks at a high level with the United States. Many observers have suggested the US must be willing to make more concessions to keep the talks moving, how likely this is to happen is anyone's guess. Both sides have continually pushed for the rapid implementation of the Panmunjom declaration from the first Moon-Kim summit. So far, it seems to be successful, with increased intergration of korean sports teams, continued high-level dialogue and the establishment of the joint liaison office a few days prior to the meeting. Compared to the US-DPRK relationship, the inter-korean relationship is much more stable and so provides a platform for continuing high-level talks on behalf of the US and it's allies.
" Civic and social organizations of south Korea reportedly launched a campaign demanding the lift of anti-DPRK sanctions and the adoption of a war-end declaration." - Rodong Sinmun.
The DPRK has long showed interest in the ongoing talks as an opportunity to get a concrete declaration to end the Korean war. This has numerous benefits to most sides, especially if introduced in tandem with a relaxation of sanctions. This would allow the re-invigoration of their economy by allowing them once more to export and import goods, as well as making a US military presence in the south seem less necessary, even less welcome. The US seems to be hesitant to come to the table, suggesting that denuclearisation must occur before any peace deal is signed, a view not shared by Pyongyang. It is likely that both sides have high hopes that the third summit with President Moon will help clarify each sides position and push for a resolution. However both sides seem adamant that progress by the other must occur before they are willing to make concessions, and breaking that deadlock could prove to be a tumultuous, if not impossible task for the Moon administration.
The outcome of the talks remains unclear. Trump has reportedly asked Moon to act as a 'Chief negotiator' of sorts between the US and the DPRK, and so it is likely that the core of the meeting will be about finding ways for nuclear talks to move forward rather than stalling. According to chief of staff at the Blue House Im Jong-seok, Kim and Moon are expected to release a joint statement on Wednesday, accompanied by a military pact which will help prevent dangerous clashes along the border. So far, the most concrete statement from a Korean summit has been that of the first summit with Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in at Panmunjom, with the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore producing nothing concrete or any viable steps forward for either sides. While the third summit may be symbolic and a major signal from both sides about their intentions, it is likely nothing more than an attempt to push the faltering nuclear talks between the US and DPRK before they collapse and trigger a return to the days of 2017, with rising tensions between two nuclear powers. However, concrete steps between the two Koreas could still be made on the topic of political, military, economic and social links across the 38th parallel, and so this could turn out to be one of the most consequential meetings so far. One thing is for sure, neither China nor the US will be far away from the proceedings, and what goes on in Pyongyang over the next few days will be being watched by the global community as a sign of things to come.