North and South Korean flags on beautiful beach. Photo: iStock
North and South Korean flags on beautiful beach. Photo: iStock

Divided since the 1953 armistice, peace between the two Koreas has seemed unattainable as skirmishes have often taken place on the border in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Unimaginable even months ago, right now North and South Korea are on the verge of inking a peace accord. It all started when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sped up engagement with “sports diplomacy” by sending  a delegation to the Winter Olympics held in Seoul. Meanwhile, he declared in a New Year message that his nation was “a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power” that wanted peace with the South.

Taking the world by storm, this peace process has even received the endorsement of  US President Donald Trump, who is to hold direct talks with Kim in late May, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Even as neutral locations for this first ever meeting between the North Korean leadership and a serving US president were being debated, Kim moved one more step forward and announced a suspension of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests last week in exchange for a peace treaty, economic aid, the removal of sanctions and security guarantees from Washington.

Pledging to create an “international environment favorable for the socialist economic construction,” Kim displayed maturity and vision, saying it is time to adopt a “new strategic line” and focus on rebuilding the nation’s economy. Only recently, market-oriented reforms have been introduced to upgrade the infrastructure in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Changing priorities, it looks like Kim has decided to opt for economic development and trade and an end confrontation. If that is the case, it is now the responsibility of the global community to respond positively to this change of heart.

Unimaginable even months ago, right now North and South Korea are on the verge of inking a peace accord

Following the chain of events, this peace initiative began after Kim’s recent visit to Beijing. China might have helped move things in this direction as it has supported the idea of a peace treaty between the two divided states for sometime. Moreover, the terms of the deal being discussed are very similar to what China has suggested in the past, not only is a direct dialogue being planned, the conditions for the deal are also on a “give and take” basis. Notably, Kim has also mentioned that he would like to open special economic zones if international sanctions against North Korea are done away with. In the long run, if the reunification of Korea is achieved both sides can benefit from Belt and Road Initiative connectivity. Playing an influential role in resolving the North Korean issue, China is a stabilizing factor as it wants to end conflict in its immediate neighborhood and get on with the Belt and Road Initiative.

Where reunification is concerned, the DMZ has been the world’s most heavily armed borders and such prospects have looked bleak as heavy weapons like the THAAD missile system are deployed and guard posts operate inside the zone. Technically, both parts of Korea have actually been in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War as it ended in a truce, not a treaty.

But expectations are high now and South Korean news agency Yonhap reports that parts of the summit would be broadcast live. If all goes well, the matter of the reunification of Korea could also be mulled over by both sides. Eager for reconciliation, 53.8% of South Koreans believe that reunification is necessary, according to a 2017 Unification Perception Survey conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies. However, due to the tense relations between the two sides, only 2.3% of South Korean respondents believed it was possible “within five years,” while 13.6% thought it would happen“within 10 years.”

At this point in time, a peace deal seems more likely at the historic meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in this week. But finalizing an official peace treaty might take more time as the 1953 armistice agreement included the UN Command. However, miracles could happen at this week’s historic  Panmunjom Summit, which happens to be the first top-level meeting outside Pyongyang as Kim plans to cross the border.

Facilitating South Korea-North Korea ties and upholding the international security mechanism of the UN Security Council, sustainable peace can be achieved, but it is only possible if the global community also plays an active role. As John Delury, associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University observed, “Ending the state of conflict is the core of the whole thing. Peace is as complicated as denuclearization. There also has to be a process of actually delivering the peace.” Though the journey ahead may not be without delays or impediments for both South Korea and North Korea, the first rays of dawn have touched the sky.

Sabena Siddiqui

Foreign Affairs Journalist, Lawyer and geopolitical analyst. Writing about modern China, the Belt and Road Initiative, Middle East and South Asia. Bylines in Al-Monitor, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post and Asia Research Institute's Asia Dialogue Twitter @sabena_siddiqi

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